Tuesday, April 25, 2023

 

Then: At a guess, fourth grade at School No. 59. Me, upper right.

Memory Lane 

Pupils of School No. 59

have a 'final' hoorah

Louisa May Alcott closed 50 years ago


The hallways and classrooms emptied of children half a century ago, but memories of Baltimore's Louisa May Alcott School No. 59 were alive and mostly well on Sunday as about 100 of its pupils gathered at a suburban synagogue for what was billed as their "second final reunion."


 A few of them hobbled from the infirmities of aging -- and the oldest among them, Sylvia Cohn, at 98, had more difficulty with short-term memory than in recalling the lower Park Heights neighborhood of her childhood. She told of picking cherries from a tree behind the old Pratt Library branch half a block from the school on Keyworth Avenue.

Their school -- our school -- was shut down in 1972, viewed by the city as substandard, lacking a cafeteria and air-conditioning, but remains a landmark. Used for a time for regional offices and as a warehouse, then vacant for a decade, the oversize three-story brick and stucco building dating to 1910 nonetheless was added to the National Register of Historic Places in recognition of its architecture.

And for the last two decades, the restored building -- now known as Alcott Place -- has been lovingly maintained as subsidized housing for elderly residents. The principal's office is gone, replaced by an elevator shaft, and each classroom was turned into an efficiency apartment. A fourth level was added in a huge former attic space and turned into an activity and computer center with its own elevator from the third floor. 

 The school had a core group of teachers who lasted there long enough to have instructed multiple generations of the same families.

 Six years ago, days after his 94th birthday, I had the pleasure of taking the well-known Baltimore writer and storyteller Gilbert Sandler on a tour of our old neighborhood, and School 59, which we had attended 24 years apart. We both had "Miss Esther" Freilachoff in first grade. And we were given a tour of the building by a gentleman who lived there -- and showed us his apartment, in what had been my sixth-grade classroom.

In hallway on 2019 visit

 I attended the school from 1951 to June 1957, at the enrollment start of the postwar "baby boomer" era, from a neighborhood that was entirely white and largely Jewish. The reunion had demographics to match.

 The first black pupil at Louisa May Alcott arrived in September of 1957, three years after the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision ostensibly ending racial segregation of public schools. That year was also the beginning of a decade of rapid racial change that swept northwesterly along the Park Heights Avenue-Reisterstown Road corridor, with "blockbusting" tactics by real estate speculators scaring white homeowners to sell at distress prices and fueling much of the "white flight" toward the suburbs of Pikesville, Randallstown and Owings Mills. 

Interestingly, the reunion program book listed relatively recent housing sale prices, street by street, in some cases noting names of the School 59 children who had formerly lived in them -- a range from around $22,000 to a few exceeding $300,000.  Conditions along neighborhood streets range from third-worldly horror to decent and improving.

On Towanda Avenue, row house ruin a few blocks from School 59.

 My own street of 1940s-vintage row homes has held up well. (Taking a recent visitor on a tour of Baltimore, we encountered a woman unloading groceries outside her row house across Royce Avenue from the one where I had been raised. She told us she had moved from D.C. in buying it last year, that the former owner had died and it had been beautifully restored for sale. According to our program book, the price was $202,000.)

 The first School 59 reunion was held in 1993, attended by more than 800 former students -- a sell-out event from which more than 200 others were turned away because of space limitations at the catering hall. Sunday's gathering was the seventh -- and billed as the "second final reunion."

 Attendance at the previous gathering in 2017 had dropped to 151, according to Bob Cohen, a reunion committee member and master of ceremonies. 

 Only a few of those attending on Sunday live in the old neighborhood's 21215 Zip Code -- known postally as "Zone 15" back in the day. Most now have suburban addresses. But some came from long distances -- as far away as California, Arizona, Colorado, Texas and, of course, Florida. 

 Bob wrote in the program book that this final reunion was planned by "new blood" -- a committee of those "younger than 80." And most likely, it was the final final. 

And now, the final reunion: Hard to believe we were all once very young, at School 59.

 

 

Sunday, April 2, 2023

From my 1965 yearbook, the newspaper staff at the College Crier shows me (top left) and Chuck Milland (bottom right).

 

Remembering a friend

who tried to be a good cop

From 43 years ago: A night on duty together

 

"At nearly 4 in the morning," my story began, "the whisper of the downtown streets is broken by an alert on the police radio: '10-31 rape in progress, Mount Royal and Cathedral, 10-31.'

"Lt. Charles Ford Milland glances at the only civilian car on Calvert Street and hammers the gas pedal. The blue dome light reflects off building walls as the Central District cruiser roars with the surge of power.

"Braking at each corner, the lieutenant checks for oncoming traffic and hammers the pedal again. Two minutes at speeds of up to 50 mph to Mount Royal, and the radio blares again: 'Suspect running west toward Mount Royal.' "

The crime, an ensuing foot chase, and the arrest of the suspected rapist by a couple of patrol officers were highlights of a routine overnight shift for Milland -- and my ride-along for this story that ran on the Metro section front page of the Baltimore Sun on June 22, 1980.

Milland called me later that day, and his funny reaction to my story has been frozen in my memory for nearly 43 years: "Geez, Dave, now they'll never let me have a new patrol car."

Saturday morning, a mutual friend called to let me know that Chuck Milland had died after a year of declining health, including respiratory difficulty.

Chuck and I had been friends since the early 1960s -- first as students at Pimlico Junior High School, then at Baltimore Junior College where, oddly enough, he became my first editor when I joined the features staff of the College Crier newspaper.

Our lives diverged sharply in the ensuing years, as I  lucked into a career at the newspaper and Chuck, after briefly teaching at an eastside elementary school, joined the city police force in 1970 and a decade later added a law degree to his resume. But he was also a good writer, and attained some notoriety for an essay published in Gallery magazine (a Playboy imitator) titled, "Why Cops Hate You."

The essay came to the attention of a popular Baltimore radio talk show personality, the late Allan Prell, who invited Chuck to talk about it on his "Lunch With Uncle Allie" show. Chuck pointed out that the article was intended to explain what many cops on the street think, and why they get annoyed with the public. It was not a reflection of police department policy or his own view, he said -- but top police officials were not amused.

For a time, Chuck was moved from his shift commander role in the Central District covering downtown Baltimore to the communications division overseeing dispatchers at police headquarters. Eventually, though, he was back on the street as a shift commander in the Northern District.

In junior high, we were casual friends and classmates, and it was just by chance and curiosity that I walked into the college newspaper office and found him back in my life... my first editor. On the rare occasions when our paths crossed at the nexus of reporter and cop, we would smile at our newspaper link. And it helped explain why Chuck was helpful to reporters at crime scenes or occasionally as an unnamed source for information -- at least with reporters he came to trust.

His police career came crashing down in 1998 after a couple of domestic disputes with his girlfriend -- a former addict he was trying to keep off drugs -- resulted in his arrest. His girlfriend had called police, and Chuck fled for several days before surrendering on a domestic assault charge. But soon after his arrest, she retracted her complaint that he had hit her and said she was too drunk to remember what had happened.

The case nonetheless drew the ire of the police chief, and his days with a badge came to a sad ending.  But at least he had a backup career as a lawyer.

"I love this job," Chuck told me during our night together in 1980. "I had more fun being a patrolman. I don't have as much fun now," he added, referring to the paperwork that came with the brass lieutenant's badge, "but the fun is more intense."

That night remains my best memory of Chuck Milland, him walking through the bars and back rooms of strip clubs on "The Block" -- the downtown adult entertainment section -- to assure a semblance of order in the minutes before the 2 a.m. closing time that sends "revelers, drunks, prostitutes, and even an assortment of just-nice-folks onto the sidewalks."

"He walks along East Baltimore Street," I wrote, "checking on the welfare of women in a massage parlor where, he acknowledges, something else obviously goes on in the back rooms. 'Sure they're whores,' he says, 'but whores get robbed, too.'

"On the street, the lieutenant offers to meet one of the Block 'girls' at the station to talk about her problems. She had been there the night before, drugged or intoxicated, claiming there was a 'contract out' on her life.

"Around the corner, at Fayette Street and Guilford Avenue, the first action of the night begins with the arrest of a female impersonator known as 'Bubba.'

"Lieutenant Milland assigned a special detail to arrest a few of the growing number of female impersonators soliciting for prostitution, to give them something to worry about. The charge is loitering for the purpose of prostitution.

"Bubba, 6 feet tall, about 190 pounds with legs like a linebacker, has been waving one of them at passing traffic through a slinky black dress slit to the thigh. He, or she, is the first of three to be locked up for the night."

The night continues with Chuck checking on staffing at assigned spots -- businesses where trash cans have been thrown through store windows, a clothing store that had been an occasional smash-and-grab target,  the lone patrolman watching over a bustling construction site for the future Charles Center subway station.

"On the district's western fringes, the cruiser crunches through a coal-black alley paved in broken bottles. A giant pile of debris and garbage narrows the passageway, and an overfed cat ignores a few scampering rats and the approaching police vehicle.

"A little past 4, on North Avenue, a disco closes for the night and the scene on The Block is repeated. Lieutenant Milland parks the cruiser and watches an old wino waving his arms like a bird and staggering on the sidewalk.

" 'He's going to get mugged,' the lieutenant says."

My story came a few days before the firing of a white city police detective named Stephen McCown for his shooting of a black 17-year-old he thought was holding and about to rob a pizza shop. The young victim, Ja-Wan McGee, who had been holding a cigarette lighter, was left paralyzed from his wounds.

The view from inside the Central District police station, I wrote, was that the police commissioner was bowing to racial pressure and firing a good cop.

But it was hardly the first and or last such incident in Baltimore, or nationally -- and only in recent years, particularly with the proliferation of security and cell phone cameras, has the violent intersection of race and police brutality or mistakes come into clear focus.

Chuck Milland was always on the side of his cops, and outspoken -- such as suggesting publicly that the Constitution be suspended for 30 days, giving police free rein to address growing urban crime.

At the station roll call that began our night, Milland discussed policing with his shift of officers. "The silent majority out there have a lot of respect for you guys," he said. "You don't run into it because of the nature if the people you deal with."

He added that 'it takes just a fraction of a second to be blown away," while worrying about whether to draw a gun and fire it. "There's an old saying, 'Better to be judged by one than carried by six.' "

"You got to use good sense and act in good faith. That's really all I have to say."

With Chuck Milland's death at our mutual age of 77, I am left wondering about how his life and world view would have turned out had he, like me, gone into journalism -- or after his first decade in uniform tried his hand at fiction to voice his views on policing.

Considering the roads not taken can be maddening.

 

 

 

 

"

 

Thursday, April 7, 2022

 

Play Ball!

The field of dreams was soaking wet,

but players were readying for action

on eve of (minor league) season opener

It's drizzling, the temperature around 52 degrees, much like an early spring day in England. But it was less than ideal for baseball here in the suburban Maryland town of Bowie, where a dozen so players are tossing around balls and loosing up muscles in late afternoon on the eve of Opening Day.

The infield is covered by puddles atop a protective tarp, and the outfield grass between center and right fields is wet under the cleats before the session is cut short by a downpour. There's thunder in the distance.

Getting loose despite the rain

This scene is the backdrop for "Media Day" at Prince George's Stadium, halfway between Washington and Baltimore and home to the Double-A Bowie Baysox. Just a couple of writers and a popular Baltimore radio sports and talk show host turn out for quick interviews in advance of the season opener -- and many of the games here are also sparsely attended.

But it's a great place to watch a game, intimate in size with maybe a tenth of the seats common to Major League ballparks. Ticket and food prices are cheaper -- there's even dollar hotdog nights, and games when fans can bring their own dogs (the kind that wag tails, that is). And a carousel diversion for children is ready near the cheap seats near deep right field.

Quaint it may feel, but there's serious business at hand for the young players for whom Double-A baseball is something of crossroads for Major League dreams -- most of which begin to die here.

The baseball mother ship is Oriole Park, just 26.6 miles to the north, but only a few of the Baysox players will ever reach it wearing uniforms. There's another rung on the advancement ladder of baseball, Triple-A, but the Baltimore Orioles affiliate is further away in Norfolk, Va. In an emergency, it could take just one phone call and a half-hour drive to fulfill the dream -- even if only briefly.

For the 80-minute Media Day session, held under an open-sided tent along the right field concourse, the first banter is with the team's new manager, Kyle Moore, who has been part of the Orioles organization for 13 years as a player, coach and manager for its minor league affiliates, working his way up. Last year, he managed the High-A Aberdeen Ironbirds, north of Baltimore.

A catcher and outfielder in his playing days, Moore looks younger than his age (36) and has more the look of a rangy middle infielder.

Asked what marching orders he gave to the team, Moore offered that they have to hustle running the baselines and keep the dugout tidy. He acknowledged the overriding mission is player development, but added that he also would like to win every game.

Among the players who took turns fielding media questions were the team's three shortstops -- Joey Ortiz, Jordan Westburg and Gunnar Henderson -- who manager Moore said he expects to play at least two games each week at that position, and handle others or fill the role of designated hitter in other games. (In my fantasy league team, I found myself with three shortstops in one year's player draft outcome -- and got rid of two of them early in the season for the sake of position diversity)

Gunnar Henderson fields questions

Two of the Baysox shortstops, Henderson and Westburg, are among the minor league players for whom the Orioles have highest hopes this year. Even their names have a baseball ring to them, especially Gunnar, a top hitter who is relatively unusual in having been drafted straight out of high school by the Orioles rather than playing college ball. The reported $2.3 million signing bonus he received might have been a factor in making the early jump into professional baseball.

Physically, among the players taking turns fielding questions, Gunnar Henderson appeared to be the biggest in physique -- and has a great smile and movie star looks. Last year, he advanced through the system in playing for three teams including the Baysox.

Among the few revelations, and the most entertaining during the 80-minute media event, was Henderson saying he's been working on his batting swing using a pitching machine that lobs foam baseballs.

We'll see how that worked out beginning Friday evening, April 8, as the Baysox open their 138-game season against the Richmond Flying Squirrels. The forecast: Dry, a tad chilly, and dreams aplenty.

  

 

 

 

Friday, March 11, 2022

Bonnie, in her later years of teaching, at  George Fox Middle School


Bonnie the teacher 

surfaces in 'stuff' 

stored in the attic 

There are lessons worth learning

 on how to be a caring educator 

 

Today marks a sad milepost in my relationship with grief -- a year since the journey ended for my best friend, my wife, the great love of my life.

 I don't like the words 'death' and 'died,' and try not to use them. I had never thought about that before last March 11. So I say that her journey ended. It seems more graceful, more beautiful. 

Bonnie Schupp and I had known each other for 53 years, having met as neighbors a floor apart in Baltimore rowhouse apartments late in 1967 and come together in 1979, through a decade-long chain of circumstance, in the wake of other marriages.

Look back from where you are, contemplate events and decisions beginning early in life, and find the crossroads where you turned toward the now. The "what-ifs" of roads not taken may seem scary in retrospect, if the turn chosen brought you to love.

I wish I could find Victor Jackson to thank for our "event." He was 16 then, a Baltimore high school dropout living in the city's hardest-hit neighborhood of the rioting that followed the 1968 murder of Martin Luther King, Jr., and working for a wallpaper company to help support his single mom and family. A man he did not know was having a heart attack on the street, and Victor tried to save him -- getting the man back into his car and, despite lacking a driver's license or know-how, driving him to nearby Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Victor stayed around, sat with the man's wife and, though he did not survive, kept in touch with her. His acts of caring were somehow brought to the attention of the Baltimore Sun, where I was a newly-minted reporter and an editor handed me the information to gin up a little human interest story. And it, in turn, resulted in a call from an editor at Scholastic Scope magazine asking if I could write a version for that publication. 

Oh, and a photo of Victor was also needed. I could have asked a Sun photographer -- after all, there was a $50 payment offered for the service... a large chunk of change by the measure of the late 1960s. But I had a better idea: Bonnie was teaching in a city junior high school, where the magazine was doubtless used in classrooms, and her then-hobby was photography. A perfect match! 

The story was published in the edition of April 11, 1969 -- our first collaboration.

But there was more to Bonnie's story that I didn't learn until recently, sorting through our version of the unbelievable amount of "stuff" that people accumulate over the course of a lifetime (and that their kids likely don't or won't want). In the year since she left us, I had barely touched the surface of that problem, getting rid of "stuff."

A month ago, I started with picking what I assumed would be low-hanging fruit -- from a plastic bin among the many boxes of stuff in our attic. It was labeled "teaching." Surely an easy target destined for the dump. And then I started going through it. Bonnie had saved material from her teaching career going back half a century, keepsakes that had meaning to her -- including remembrances relating to her students and their work under her tutelage. 

What surprised me most were the letters to Bonnie in 1969 and 1970 from Katherine Robinson, editor of Scholastic Scope, expressing thanks for various articles and poems written by some of her students at Benjamin Franklin Junior High that were going to be published in the magazine in coming months. Bonnie had used her connection from the photograph of Victor Jackson to open a door of possibilities for her students. 

The first letter is dated Nov. 19, 1969, thanking her for a story and photos by 14-year-old Reginald Carpenter about community teenagers working with a Japanese teacher visiting Baltimore as a Volunteer to America, to turn a side-street dump into a garden.

 "You are an admirable teacher," the editor wrote. "I remember your submitting a poem by one of your students (which I regret we couldn't publish because we simply don't have the space) and your taking pictures of the young man from Baltimore who went out of his way to help a dying man. I'm glad to see you are now Photography Club Sponsor as well as an English teacher. Our schools need more teachers like you who are involved and getting through to their students."

Next up was Delbert Williams, and the heart of this blog post.

In the 1969-1970 school year, Bonnie oversaw a group of her ninth-grade students for a literature unit project making a short film titled "Decisions," about everyday problems that arise and how kids deal with them. "You find a wallet, for example. Do you try to return it?" the Scope article by Delbert reads. "Someone makes you angry. Do you start a fight? The movie asks you to make decisions like these."

Delbert's story in Scope 

It was not easy to make a movie in a Baltimore public school in those days, not like in our era of cell phone technology. Equipment had to be reserved and borrowed from the school administration headquarters.

"Some students wrote the script. Others were actors, directors, or cameramen. The project took a lot of planning and work," Delbert wrote. "But after seeing the film, the class was pleased. And work didn't seem like work, after all." 

The article was accompanied by four photos -- one by Bonnie Caples (her married name in those days) of young Delbert looking through a camera viewfinder, the others by Delbert of the filmmakers and the work, including one of Bonnie demonstrating for them how to adjust the movie camera on its tripod.

"You've done it again," editor Robinson wrote to Bonnie in a letter dated March 18, 1970. "Delbert Williams' photos (and your photo of him), plus his description of the "Decisions" film will appear in SCOPE, April 13.... I've notified our accounting department to send you a check for your photo of Delbert and one to Delbert in your care. We hope you enjoy the article when it appears. We appreciate very much your submitting it, and we admire Delbert's skill in story writing.

"Meanwhile, thanks again for your interest in SCOPE and in your students. Clearly, you are doing magical things with kids at Benjamin Franklin Jr. High."

There was one other letter from Robinson, dated July 8, 1970, thanking Bonnie for sending in more student work, "especially some of the poems and the definitions of love, life, pain, embarrassment, etc. We also liked and admired the original song by Joe Schelhouse and Lorraine Soustek." 

And then, it continued, came this: "We are very sorry to hear that Delbert Williams died. It came as a shock really. His article and photographs were so full of life -- not at all fraught with the knowledge of impending death. We are grateful that you encouraged him to submit his work to SCOPE."

I was stunned -- and in tears. I hadn't made the connection about Delbert being one of two black students of Bonnie's who had died back then, one by drowning and the other from sickle cell disease. I could find no story through online searches on Delbert's death, but I found a mention of him in an obituary of his mother, Ella W. Campbell, a community activist and retired Baltimore educator, published six years ago. It included among her survivors a sister, also a retired teacher, whose phone number turned up quickly in another search -- and I called her.

She was, to say the least, a tad surprised... maybe even suspicious... at my call asking about a nephew who had died nearly 52 years ago. So she asked a few questions about who was my wife, and about the Scope article -- but she happened to have a copy of it, and quickly found it to verify my credibility.

Delbert had died of sickle cell disease. And, as I subsequently learned, his only sibling, a sister who taught kindergarten, had also died of the genetic disease -- at age 45 -- two years before their mother's passing. 

Half a century through time, there's not much evidence of Delbert Andre Williams outside of family connections. But there's a magazine with his story and his picture in its yellowing pages, because he had a teacher who not only encouraged his accomplishments in school but for all the years since had kept the magazine page and those letters from the editor.

Bonnie was in her third year of teaching when she worked with Delbert. She burned out from teaching in the city four years later, and went into business with a friend/partner as owners of a camera story in suburban Severna Park. She subsequently wrote a column geared largely to amateur photography that appeared in the old Baltimore Evening Sun and newspapers in South Bend, Ind., and Prescott, Ariz., raised our two daughters, and went back to teaching in our Anne Arundel County for another 15 years.

The plastic bin from the attic, and a thick folder in one of Bonnie's very full file cabinets, had a lot more material from her second round of teaching. I am hoping for a call back from the English department head at her last school, about perhaps taking a stack of classroom guide books that would doubtless make life easier for a young language arts teacher -- but first-come can have them all.

This morning, I read through another find from the file cabinet -- a 55-page ethnographic study on underlying reasons for a teacher shortage that she wrote in 2001 for a class at the University Baltimore in working toward a doctorate in communications design. (She was awarded the degree at age 60, two years after retiring as a teacher, and subsequently focused on photography and writing.)

One thing obvious to me, from all the evidence packed into the attic and file cabinet, is that Bonnie as a teacher cared deeply about her students. And given all the challenges that teachers face, as covered in her university paper, that's not easy.

I was deeply touched when, on learning a year ago of Bonnie's journey ending, some of her former students cried. No doubt that I will, again, as I try to get rid of stuff. That's not easy, either. 

Bonnie, in a gag classroom photo: Teaching is not always easy.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

... and bringing a literature unit to life, when it is.



 

Thursday, June 10, 2021

   

 Roadside commemoration

Families, union leaders assemble

to unveil highway marker for

longest U.S. strike by public workers

 

Tom Holler unveils historical marker along Route 135.

 Mountain Lake Park, Md. -- Time is unrelenting. The past fades from memory. But not this week, in the remote and mountainous western corner of Maryland, where a crowd of more than 100 gathered by a rural roadside to commemorate the longest strike by public employees in United States history.

Culminating a years-long effort spearheaded by retired steelworker and union activist Len Shindel, the ceremony featured brief remarks by labor leaders and even a couple of local politicians before the unveiling of a highway sign along Route 135 remembering the seven-month strike by the Garrett County highway workers who repaired the roads, built the bridges and, perhaps most important, plowed the snow in the long, cold winters.

Unions don't come naturally to conservative and largely Republican Garrett County, where you don't have drive far to see the signs, flags and banners of allegiance to the failed Trump reelection campaign. Along Route 39 just west of Oakland, the county seat, a Trump/Pence sign had been altered -- the name of the former vice president/running mate removed and replaced with a three-letter word to read Trump Won.

Another property along the highway sports a sign declaring, "Fuck Biden and Fuck You For Voting Him."


The political landscape likely was a little less bitter in 1970, when the highway workers -- earning less than two dollars an hour and lacking the job protections of a strong union -- sought recognition of the traditionally urban-based American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The three-member board of county commissioners -- all Republicans -- refused. The employees waited until April, after most of the long snow season had passed, to go on strike.

It didn't end until November, after county voters ousted the incumbent commissioners and replaced them with three Democrats who on taking office voted to recognize the union and then reached agreement on a contract. Oddly, as far as anyone could remember, Garrett County hasn't elected a Democrat to the board of commissioners in the half-century since.

During the long battle over union recognition, the commissioners fired the men who refused to return to work and attempted to replace them. That August, the commissioners summoned the new hires to Oakland and brought in a school bus to ferry them to the highway department garages and begin work.

The union had sent members from Baltimore to intervene. And they did so in dramatic fashion, flattening the tires, breaking the windows and ripping out the ignition wires, as state police troopers watched without intervening. That some of the union reinforcements were black did not go unnoticed in a county that, at the time, was pretty much all-white...  and to this day still has relatively few residents of color.

In a cavernous meeting hall behind heavy oak doors, angry voices could be heard -- one of them berating the police lieutenant in charge of the troopers for allowing "those "n-----s" on the bus when "there's no n-----s in Garrett County!" I was among a group of reporters in the lobby there who overheard the exchange. Three of the journalists had an ear pressed against the door, and nearly fell into the room as the disgusted lieutenant opened the door to leave the meeting.

The strike also featured a few other explosive incidents -- with dynamite -- at targets including a bridge, and the fence around the property of one of the commissioners. A striker later was given a jail sentence after pleading guilty to dynamiting the fence.

Many of those at Tuesday's gathering were children and widows of the strikers. Of the 139 county road workers, only about half a dozen survive.

One of them is  Friendsville resident Troy Wakefield, 84, who said he drove a truck for the highway department for 30 years. "Everybody stuck together back then," he told me. "The union even made my house payment."

The union sent a car caravan on a 200-mile drive to Garrett County to bring food and other supplies to the strikers, and raised money to keep the men and their families financially afloat.

Longtime union leader Glenard S. Middleton Sr., executive director of AFSCME's Maryland Council 67 and vice president of the Maryland-D.C. AFL-CIO, emphasized in his remarks that the union and the workers here in "God's country" are family.

Donna S. Edwards, a former social worker who is president of the Maryland State and District of Columbia AFL-CIO, told the crowd that unions are not about being Democrat or Republican -- but about achieving fair salaries and protections that enable workers to support their families and communities.

If the commissioners in office 51 years ago made an error in judgment, it was failing to realize that in the state's most sparsely populated county, most voters were related to or friends of men on strike or were friends of others connected to them. And that likely figured in their election defeat.


The sign was unveiled by Tom Holler, a retired roads worker whose late father Roy was one of the strikers. He recalled walking the picket line as a 10-year-old with his father. "I was supporting my dad," he said.

"We came together to honor men, women and families who refused to be

Len Shindel, speaking at ceremony.

divided and fought successfully to move Garrett County forward in 1970," Len Shindel wrote later in a Facebook post, thanking county residents and families of the road workers who joined in support of erecting the sign, and helped organize the ceremony. 

 "This morning and in coming months and years, we need to continually ask ourselves if we are truly honoring the memory of those we commemorated by crossing our boundaries in the present to address the pressing need of working families in Garrett County for decent-paying jobs, affordable housing and the tools needed to win a stable future in an uncertain and challenging time."