Black leaders on ‘Freedom Bus Ride’ across Maryland’s Eastern Shore call for racial equality

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Chants of “No Justice! No peace!” broke through the usual sounds of squawking sea gulls and chattering tourists on the boardwalk Monday.

It was the final stop for about 100 Black Maryland political, clergy and regional NAACP representatives who crossed the Eastern Shore in a “Freedom Bus Ride” to protest systemic racism, from the Talbot Boys Confederate monument in Easton to recent police violence on the Ocean City boardwalk.

The bus caravan, a nod to the Freedom Rides that highlighted inequalities in the South in the 1960s, provided a chance to advocate for Black youth, said Carl Snowden, convener of the Caucus of African American Leaders, a consortium of organizations, churches and leaders.

“We have to change the expectation and experience they’ve had with police,” Snowden said. “The way we do that is hold police accountable. Our request is simple: We want all young people to be treated fairly, respected and given the dignity any human being deserves.“

The NAACP, United Black Clergy, Connecting the Dots, March on Maryland, Showing Up For Racial Justice, Freedom Fighters and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Committee collaborated to support the all-day, 100-mile freedom ride from Annapolis to Ocean City.

”We need to keep sending the message of a need for change and improvement in the oversight of law enforcement,” said the Rev. Marguerite Morris, vice president of the United Black Clergy of Anne Arundel County.

The crowd marched through downtown Easton, carrying large yellow signs saying “JIM CROW - TIME TO GO” and “MOVE TALBOT’S CONFEDERATE MONUMENT.” The county now faces a lawsuit over the long contentious memorial near the county courthouse, the latest effort by the Talbot County branch of the NAACP, the Maryland Office of the Public Defender and the state’s branch of the ACLU to remove it.

In Cambridge, the birthplace of abolitionist Harriet Tubman, the group commemorated an eventful 1967 visit by civil rights activist H. Rap Brown. After giving a fiery speech against middle-of-the-road policy with “the treacherous honky,” Brown was blamed for inciting a riot that broke out in the small Dorchester County city, The Washington Post reported at the time.

The leaders met with Salisbury Mayor Jake Day and paid homage to a recently installed memorial to Matthew Williams, who was lynched in the Wicomico County town in 1931.

Day, a Democrat, said the freedom ride served as “a valuable reminder that we’re not alone out here,” and that Eastern Shore communities can work together to grapple with the area’s history.

“Our belief in justice means acknowledging that injustice happened right here in our community, including places like the courthouse lawn,” Day said. “Hiding from that past injustice is only going to engender more mistrust.”

The freedom riders lamented the 2018 death of 19-year-old Anton Black in the Caroline County town of Greensboro under the crushing weight of three police officers holding him down. In a federal lawsuit, Black’s estate has alleged excessive force by officers and “ensuing efforts” to cover up the actions.

At their final destination, Ocean City — which they noted once didn’t allow Black people to use its beaches — the Freedom Ride participants met with Mayor Rick Meehan and spoke out against recent violent arrests of Black teens on the boardwalk for minor offenses such as vaping.

Dorien Rogers, president of the Salisbury University Collegiate Chapter of the NAACP, noted that a town hall meeting by the city council that the group had planned to attend was canceled at the last minute. He urged attendees to keep up the pressure and continue to advocate for change.

“We all have young students that come here, and they do not deserve to be targeted for the color of their skin,” Rogers said. “We shall not have that.”

Faith Commodore, a 65-year-old member of the Caucus of African American Leaders, said the arrest videos made her fearful to smoke in Ocean City.

”I saw what happened,” she said, referring to video footage that circulated of the boardwalk arrests. “I thought about George Floyd when I saw that. Shouldn’t you get a ticket for that?“

While other onlookers watched silently from outdoor restaurant tables and condominium balconies, Taylor Burrow cheered on the marching group during a break in the chanting.

The 23-year-old Bowie State University graduate, on vacation with her family from Baltimore, had heard about the violent arrests of two teens in Ocean City last month. But she hadn’t expected to see demonstrators marching past her on the boardwalk.

“It was great,“ Burrow said. “It needs to happen more often.”

Baltimore Sun newsroom researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.

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