Oral History

This category contains 4 posts

Sitting on Top of the World

Herbert Frisby and the crew of the B-29 just before the flight that took Frisby directly over the geographic North Pole. Frisby dropped a steel box containing a U.S. flag and a bronze memorial plaque to Matthew Henson, the first African-American to reach the geographic North Pole. The geographic North Pole is the northernmost point of the earth, and is the direction of true north. The North magnetic pole is the point where the earth’s magnetic field points vertically downward and is where traditional magnetic compasses point towards. The magnetic pole is located some 200 miles south of the geographic North Pole and is constantly moving.

Herbert Frisby and the crew of the B-29 just before the flight that took Frisby directly over the North Pole, August 12, 1956, MdHS, PAM 11,409. Frisby dropped a steel box over the exact location of the geographic North Pole, which contained a U.S. flag and a bronze memorial plaque to Matthew Henson, the first African-American to reach the North Pole.

When one thinks of arctic exploration, the state of Maryland does not immediately come to mind. But Maryland’s connection to the history of polar exploration is more than tenuous, as two of its native sons occupy prominent places on the list of travelers to the northernmost point of the earth. When Baltimorean Herbert Frisby flew over the geographic North Pole aboard a U.S. Air Force B-29 on August 12, 1956, he became the second African-American to reach the point where all longitude lines converge and every direction is south.** Frisby was following in the trail blazed by another Marylander, Matthew Henson, who forty seven years earlier, became recognized as the first African-American to set foot on the North Pole as a member of Admiral Robert Peary’s expedition, credited with reaching the pole on April 6, 1909. An arctic explorer in his own right, Frisby gained greater fame in his quest to see his fellow Marylander recognized as co-discoverer of the North Pole alongside Robert Peary.

Herbert Frisby was born on Lee Street in southwest Baltimore, near what is today Camden Yards. Details of his early life are murky—Frisby was somewhat cagey about certain details of his life, particularly his age. According to census records he was born in 1888, but in published interviews Frisby would often avoid answering direct questions about how old he was. In a 1977 Baltimore Evening Sun article he would say only that he was in his 80s. It is also unclear when Frisby first became aware of Matthew Henson. In what is most surely an apocryphal story, Frisby claimed to have first heard of the story of Henson’s voyage to the North Pole when he was in the sixth grade. In the audio excerpt below taken from an interview conducted in 1971, Frisby discusses his recollections of the event that altered the course of his life.

By all indications, Frisby was a student at Howard University at the time of the Peary expedition in 1909, having graduated from Baltimore’s Colored High and Training School (renamed Douglass high school in 1923) in 1908. He worked his way through college playing the piano and taking various odd jobs. Upon graduating in 1912, he took a teaching post at an elementary school in Baltimore, and for the next 46 years was employed in various positions in Baltimore’s public school system. By the time he retired in 1958 as head of the science department at Douglass, a position he had held for over thirty years, he was a highly regarded educator whose commentary on various subjects could often be found in the pages of Baltimore’s Afro-American newspaper.

It was perhaps in his role as a science teacher that Frisby first became fascinated with the story of Matthew Henson and decided to follow in his footsteps. During World War II he received his first opportunity when he became a war correspondent in Alaska for the Afro-American. Frisby provided readers of the newspaper with accounts of his encounters with Eskimos and his travels through Alaska and the Aleutian Islands.

Just prior to his service as a correspondent, Frisby got a chance to meet his idol. According to Frisby he spent five years traveling from his home in Baltimore in search of Henson’s birthplace, a small cabin in the tiny village of Nanemejoy on the southwestern tip of Charles County. He eventually located it, and taking a piece of wood from the cabin, he travelled to New York in search of Henson, beginning a friendship that would last until Henson’s death in 1955.

Following his hero’s death, Frisby began a one man crusade to see Henson recognized as co-discoverer of the North Pole alongside Robert Peary. There had been many supporters to Henson’s claim, including the Afro-American, that he arrived at the Pole before the exhausted Peary. But Peary, as leader of the expedition, received credit for arriving first. Henson’s lack of recognition was also due in no small part to the color of his skin, and for much of the first half of the twentieth century he was largely ignored. Frisby took it upon himself to change this.

Image of the Matthew Henson Memorial Plaque located in the Maryland State House, Annapolis, MdHS, PAM 11,409.

Image of the Matthew Henson Memorial Plaque located in the Maryland State House, Annapolis, MdHS, PAM 11,409.

In 1955, Frisby established the Matthew Henson Memorial Project dedicated to commemorating Henson’s life and accomplishments. Four years later, Governor J. Millard Tawes established April 6 as Matthew Henson Day in Maryland. In 1962, largely through Frisby’s advocacy, Baltimore City Public School #29, located on North Payson Street, was renamed the Matthew Henson Elementary School. Frisby’s ultimate dream was realized on August 8, 1966, when a memorial plaque commemorating Matthew Henson’s arrival at the North Pole was unveiled at the Maryland State House. Bearing the inscription, “Matthew Alexander Henson, Co-Discover of the North Pole with Admiral Robert Edwin Peary, April 6, 1909,” the plaque was the first official endorsement of Matthew Henson and Robert Peary as equal partners in their expedition to the North Pole.

Another goal not realized in Frisby’s lifetime, was the fulfillment of Henson’s request to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery near the grave of Admiral Peary. In 1988, Henson’s remains were exhumed from Woodlawn cemetery in New York City and re-interred near Peary’s grave.

Frisby achieved a good deal of renown in his lifetime for his efforts on behalf of Matthew Henson, but he also received significant attention for his own arctic travels.  By the time Frisby died in 1983, he had made over 26 trips to the polar regions—on one expedition he spent two months sharing an igloo with an Eskimo family. Reports of these excursions were often printed in the pages of the Afro-American. In 1965, a group of women inspired by Frisby’s accomplishments as an educator and explorer, established the Herbert M. Frisby Historical Society. The organization worked to promote the study of African-American history as well as continuing Frisby’s mission of promoting the legacy of Matthew Henson. In 1977 Mayor William Donald Schaeffer designated March 6 as Herbert M. Frisby Day in Baltimore in honor of the explorer’s life and accomplishments.

Herbert M. Frisby, undated, MdHS, PAM 11,409. Frisby is holding a pair of traditional Inuit snow goggles used to prevent snow blindness.

Herbert M. Frisby, undated, MdHS, PAM 11,409. Frisby is holding a pair of traditional Inuit snow goggles used to prevent snow blindness.

The story of Frisby’s quest to gain Matthew Henson recognition as “co-discoverer of the North Pole” is not without irony. Doubts over whether Henson and Robert Peary reached the pole have been widespread since their story was first announced to the world in the pages of the New York Times. Peary and another American explorer, Frederick Cook, emerged from the arctic wilderness in September of 1909 within a week of one another, with Cook claiming to have discovered the North Pole on April 21, 1908, a full year ahead of Peary. Both have had their share of detractors, but for most of the twentieth century Peary’s claim has been generally viewed as the more credible. In 1911, Peary’s claim was even formally endorsed by the U.S. Congress, although they too had strong reservations over the veracity of Peary’s claims.

In recent decades, the doubts have only increased. Another aspirant to the title of “discover of the North Pole,” American aviator Richard Byrd, who claimed to have flown over the pole by plane on May 9, 1926, has largely been discredited as well. Although the debate will probably never be conclusively resolved, today, credit is generally given to Norwegian Roald Amundsen as the being the first to arrive at the North Pole. Amundsen, who was also the first to reach the geographic South Pole in 1911, flew over the pole in a dirigible with his 15 man expedition on May 12, 1926, just a few days after Byrd claimed to.

So in all likelihood, Herbert Frisby, who is probably more remembered for his role as champion of Matthew Henson, rather than for his own arctic exploits, was the first African-American to reach the top of the world. (Damon Talbot)

**The geographic North Pole is the northernmost point of the earth, and is the direction of true north. It is the point where the earth’s axis of rotation meets its surface. The North magnetic pole is the point where the earth’s magnetic field points vertically downward and where traditional magnetic compasses point towards. The magnetic pole is in constant motion and located some 200 miles south of the geographic North Pole.

Sources and further reading:

Herbert Frisby, interview, 1971, MdHS, OH 8015.

“North Pole became this family’s guiding light,” Clarice Scriber, The Baltimore Sun, January 31, 1991.

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/Cook-vs-Peary.html

http://tierneylab.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/07/who-was-first-at-the-north-pole/

http://www.nytimes.com/1997/02/17/us/who-reached-the-north-pole-first-a-researcher-lays-claim-to-solving-the-mystery.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/419365/North-Pole

http://www.dioi.org/vols/wa0.pdf

http://library.osu.edu/projects/byrd-north-pole/controversy.php

http://geography.about.com/od/learnabouttheearth/a/northpole_2.htm

An American Tragedy

(left) Clarence Mitchell Jr. staging a one man picket line supporting school desegregation in Baltimore, 1954, MdHS, Political Ephemera Collection.
(right) Parren Mitchell protesting segregation of teacher’s training programs at Douglas High School, Paul Henderson, July 1948, MdHS, HEN.00.A2-161 (detail)

Many who devote their lives to bringing about social change can recall a single incident or episode that altered their perceptions and determined their path in life. Civil rights activist Rosa Parks recalls that one of the first ways she realized the difference between “a black world and a white world” was when, as a child, she saw white children riding buses to school while she had to walk. For historian Howard Zinn, featured in a previous post, it was his experiences as a bombardier during World War II that had a profound effect on his later career as a civil rights and anti-war activist, and outspoken critic of U.S. foreign policy. For brothers Clarence Mitchell Jr. (1911-1984) and Parren Mitchell (1922-1907), it was the 1933 lynching of George Armwood in the small town of Princess Anne on Maryland’s Eastern Shore that set the course for their future careers as two of Maryland’s foremost civil rights leaders.

The Eastern Shore was a place apart in the 1930s. Socially and economically it was closer to the south than to the rest of Maryland, particularly in terms of race relations. The roots of a longstanding hostility between blacks and whites in the region were established early in the nation’s history. In 1783 Maryland ended the slave trade across the state, except on the Eastern Shore. Somerset County, where Princess Anne was the county seat, was one of six main centers of slave trading in the state. Isolated both geographically and economically from much of the rest of the state, the economic frustrations of poor whites in the area were often taken out on their African American neighbors. By the 1930s, the increased economic hardships of the Great Depression caused simmering hostilities to boil over, with violent result.

Map of Maryland Showing Somerset County, from Maryland’s Historic Somerset, Board of Education, Somerset County, Princess Anne, MD, 1955.

On December 4, 1931, Matthew Williams, an African American man, shot and killed his white employer in Salisbury and then turned the gun on himself in an unsuccessful suicide attempt. That evening, a mob of more than a thousand dragged Williams from his hospital bed where he lay critically wounded, and hung him up on the courthouse lawn. His body was then dragged to the town’s African American business district, and set on fire.  The Williams murder was the 32nd lynching in Maryland since 1882, and the first since 1911. Less than two years later, another lynching took place that would mirror the Williams murder with frightening similarity in nearby Princess Anne.

Mary Denston, the elderly wife of a Somerset County farmer, was returning to her home in Princess Anne on the morning of October 17, 1933 when she was attacked by an assailant. A manhunt quickly began for the alleged perpetrator, 22-year-old African-American George Armwood. He was soon arrested and charged with felonious assault. By 5:00 pm, an angry mob of local white residents had gathered outside the Salisbury jail where the suspect had been taken. In order to protect Armwood from the increasingly hostile crowd, state police transferred him to Baltimore. But just as quickly he was returned to Somerset county. After assuring Maryland Governor Albert Ritchie that Armwood’s safety would be guaranteed, Somerset county officials transferred Armwood to the jail house in Princess Anne, with tragic consequences.

Sources are conflicting regarding many of the details of the assault on Denston and the subsequent murder of George Armwood, but what is certain is that on the evening of October 18 a mob of a thousand or more people stormed into the Princess Anne jail house and hauled Armwood from his cell down to the street below. Before he was hung from a tree some distance away, Armwood was dragged through the streets, beaten, stabbed, and had one ear hacked off.  Armwood’s lifeless body was then paraded through the town, finally ending up near the town’s courthouse, where the mob doused the corpse with gasoline and set it on fire.

Clarence Mitchell Jr. was a cub reporter for Baltimore’s Afro-American newspaper when he was sent across the bay to report on the lynching. It was his first assignment with the paper. Mitchell, accompanied by photographer Paul Henderson and two other reporters from the newspaper, arrived in Princess Anne mid morning on October 19 after an all night journey from Baltimore. By the time the four newspapermen arrived at the crime scene, Armwood had been dead for some time. Mitchell described the horrific sight in vivid detail for the readers of the October 28 issue of the Afro-American:

“The skin of George Armwood was scorched and blackened while his face had suffered many blows from  sharp and heavy instruments. A cursory glance revealed that one ear was missing and his tongue clenched between his teeth, gave evidence of his great agony before death. There is no adequate description of the mute evidence of gloating on the part of whites who gathered to watch the effect upon our people.”

In a 1977 interview conducted for the McKeldin-Jackson Oral History Project, Mitchell goes into further detail about the lynching:

Interviewer Charles Wagandt can be heard expressing utter disbelief at the idea that the lynching was advertised, but in fact this was the case. Denton Watson, Mitchell’s official biographer, writes that,

“…the advent of the lynching had been well advertised throughout Maryland, neighboring Washington, D.C., and northern Virginia. In Princess Anne members of the fire department sounded the alarm and brought out the fire truck as a signal for the mob to gather. Everyone, including newspaper reporters, had ample time to attend the event. No one was surprised by the news….”

The lynching was celebrated throughout the town. The Afro-American reported that the mob danced around Armwood’s burnt remains singing “John Brown’s Body” and “Give me something to remember you by.” Small crowds gathered throughout the night discussing the murder. One man was quoted as stating,  “It would have cost the state $1,000 to hang the man. It cost us 75 cents.” Pieces from the rope used to hang Armwood were taken as souvenirs.

Mitchell returned to his home on Bloom street in northwest Baltimore a changed man. He had been involved in civil rights activities prior to the lynching—in 1932 he joined the Baltimore branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and was the vice president of the City Wide Young Peoples Forum (established by future wife Juanita Jackson). But being witness to the violence of the lynching, which was outside the scope of his experiences living in Baltimore, galvanized his thinking. This, and his coverage of the trial of the Scottsboro Boys, nine African American boys charged with the rape of two white women in Scottsboro, Alabama, “awakened his interest in the…need for extensive social and judicial reforms in the country.” That evening, as he related the events of the day to his family over dinner he was so upset he couldn’t eat. For Clarence’s younger brother Parren, 11 years old at the time, seeing his brother’s reaction had a profound effect on the boy. In the clip below taken from a 1976 McKeldin-Jackson Project interview, Parren Mitchell discusses his reaction to his brother’s experience and the impact it had on him.

The murder of George Armwood was the last recorded lynching in Maryland. Clarence returned to Princess Anne to cover the trial of four men arrested for their participation in the lynching. Violence was again in the air as another mob formed, and National Guard troops were sent in. The case was eventually dismissed due to insufficient evidence. Out of the more than 5,000 documented lynchings that occurred in the United States between 1890 and 1960, less than one percent resulted in a conviction.

Clarence Mitchell, Jr. and Parren Mitchell, not dated, Clarence Mitchell Jr. Funeral Program, March 23, 1984, MdHS, MS 3092.

Both Clarence and Parren went on to dedicate their lives to furthering the cause of civil rights. Following World War II, Clarence became the labor secretary for the NAACP, and in 1950 he became the director of the organization’s Washington bureau, quickly emerging as the leading civil rights lobbyist in Washington. Known as the “101st Senator,” he was instrumental in helping to usher major civil rights legislation through Congress: The Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1960, and 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. One journalist called him “the prime source of moral pressure for the cause of racial justice.” In 1985 the city courthouse in downtown Baltimore was named in his honor.

Parren’s career was no less distinguished than that of his elder brother’s. Within a year of the Armwood lynching, Parren joined his brother in a picket against local merchants over discriminatory hiring practices near their home in northwest Baltimore. Over the course of a more than 50 year career in the civil rights movement and politics at the state and national level, Mitchell established a number of firsts for African-Americans. In 1950 he became the first to attend the University of Maryland’s College Park campus when he was accepted into the school’s graduate school of sociology after suing to gain entrance.

When Mitchell was elected to Congress in 1970 as a representative of Maryland’s 7th district, he not only became the first African-American congressman from Maryland, but the first since 1898 to hold a congressional seat from a state south of the Mason-Dixon line. He also was one of the founding members of the congressional black caucus. Over the course of his eight terms as a congressman, Mitchell remained a tireless advocate for increasing economic opportunities for minorities and minority owned businesses. (Damon Talbot)

Sources and further reading:

African American Leaders of Maryland: a Portrait Gallery, Suzanne E. Chapelle & Glenn O. Phillips (Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 2004)

“Clarence Mitchell: Man who was always there,” Peter Kumpa, Baltimore Evening Sun, March 20, 1984.

Here Lies Jim Crow: Civil Rights in Maryland, C. Fraser Smith (Baltimore: The JohnsHopkinsUniversity Press, 2008)

Lion in the Lobby: Clarence Mitchell, Jr.’s Struggle for the Passage of Civil Rights Laws, Denton L. Watson (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1990)

“Parren J. Mitchell: 1922-2007, Crusader for justice dies at 85,” Sun staff, Baltimore Sun, May 29, 2007

“Parren Mitchell, 85, Congressman and Rights Leader, Dies,” Douglas Martin, The New York Times, May 30, 2007.

“Shore starting to face up to past, some say,” Tom Dunkel, Baltimore Sun, February 25, 2007.

http://www.msa.md.gov/megafile/msa/speccol/sc3500/sc3520/013700/013750/html/13750bio.html

http://www.visionaryproject.org/mitchellparren/

http://baic.house.gov/member-profiles/profile.html?intID=60

http://suite101.com/article/rosa-parks-challenges-segregation-law-a175677

Maryland Ahead by (Clarence) Miles

After Clarence Miles died on October 8, 1977, the Baltimore Sun described him as “an urbane man who never forgot the value of good common sense. And he applied both traits with rich results for the city and the state.”[1]Miles has long been an overlooked figure in Maryland history, primarily overshadowed by the passage of time and such larger-than-life contemporaries like Thomas D’Alesandro, Jr., Theodore R. McKeldin, George P. Mahoney, and William Donald Schaefer. Yet, Miles’ contributions played a significant role in charting the course Maryland took during the last half of the twentieth century.

Graduating from the University of Maryland School of Law in 1920, and being admitted to the state bar, Miles quickly made a name for himself within prominent Democratic political circles. He first gained prominence during the telephone rates case of 1924. At the time, the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company sought to increase rates by eight percent, prompting statewide protests from individual counties. Miles, then serving as the City Solicitor for Salisbury, argued on behalf of Caroline, Dorchester, Somerset, Wicomico, and Worcester counties before the Public Service Commission.[2] Governor Albert Ritchie singled out Miles’ efforts in the telephone rates case, and named him People’s Counsel to the Public Service Commission. Beginning on January 1, 1925, Miles served as People’s Counsel for fifteen months, resigning in March 1926.  The Baltimore Sun praised Miles for his industry and energy, “showing purpose and demonstrating ability to protect the public interests.”[3]

Clarence Miles (left front) with Richard Nixon and Governor Theodore McKeldin, 1954. SVF Sports Baseball Orioles vs. White Sox, 1954.

Ironically, in a career that demonstrated such early promise, the People’s Counsel would be the last public office Miles held in a long, storied career. Miles’ stature within the Democratic Party grew during the 1930s and 1940s. So much so, the Baltimore Sun considered him a powerful figure within the party, known for facilitating harmony between the state party’s divergent wings. However, by the early-1950s, Miles’ stature within the party weakened. He lost favor within the party for his support of Dwight D. Eisenhower during the 1952 presidential election. In supporting Eisenhower, Miles became viewed as a “prime mover” in an inter-party rebellion that witnessed forty-seven prominent Maryland Democrats throwing their support for the Republican nominee. Four years later, however, Miles publicly supported the Democratic nominee Adlai Stevenson, accepting the chairmanship of the Volunteers for Stevenson and Kefauver campaign in Maryland.[4]The damage was nonetheless done.

Clarence W. Miles with Orioles Jim McDonald and Harry Byrd, 1955. Photo taken from the book Eight Busy Decades: the Life and Times of Clarence W. Miles (page 40) edited by Jacques Kelly.

Yet, one of Miles’ major accomplishments came outside the political realm. He worked closely with Mayor Thomas D’Alesandro, Jr. and local financiers to bring the St. Louis Browns to Baltimore. In September 1953, with Baltimore holding slim hopes of landing the Browns, Miles offered to purchase eighty percent of the team’s stock, costing a total of approximately $2,450,000. The money Miles produced proved influential in helping Baltimore secure a Major League Baseball team.[5] As a result, Miles became the Orioles first team president. His tenure, however, proved less successful. With the Orioles performing poorly during the 1954 and 1955 seasons, Miles leadership style facilitated resentment from members of the Board of Directors, especially given the organization’s free-spending ways in acquiring young talent. The Board ultimately squeezed Miles out as team president in November 1955.[6]

Miles experience with the Orioles paved the way for his most memorable role: member of the Greater Baltimore Committee (G.B.C.). As people and businesses left Baltimore in the post-war period, revitalization became viewed as the remedy for the city’s decay. The Commission on Government Efficiency and Economy called for the extension of “blight-correction activities” into the city’s core.[7] However, without a coherent policy, most plans failed. By January 1955, members of Baltimore’s business community formed the G.B.C., whereby members would work with municipal agencies to facilitate “prompt and aggressive action” to correct city problems.[8] Miles not only served as one of the organization’s founders, but he also served as the organization’s first chairman. Through Miles’ efforts, the G.B.C. helped “prepare Baltimore for a downtown renaissance,” especially through the development of One Charles Center as a building block of revitalization.[9]

Eight Busy Decades: the Life and Times of Clarence W. Miles available at the H. Furlong Baldwin Library at MdHS.

Miles efforts not only served to benefit Baltimore, but also his native Eastern Shore. In November 1963, Miles, with New York’s Steuben Glass Company President Arthur A. Houghton, Jr., formed the Wye Institute. The institute stood as a non-profit organization designed “to help guide the economic, cultural and educational growth of the once-isolated Eastern Shore.”[10] Miles served as the Wye Institute’s first president, overseeing a rocky beginning which included a quickly prepared survey that sharply criticized the region’s business and civic leaders for their inability to communicate and work together for the general good. As a result, Eastern Shore leaders grew disenchanted with the Wye Institute.[11] Miles’ tenure, however, paved the way for an educational summer camp designed to broaden the cultural and educational horizons of the Eastern Shore’s youth.[12]Over time, the Wye Institute played a pivotal role in working with business and civic leaders in the development of the Eastern Shore, integrating the region with the rest of the state.

By September 1965, Miles left his position as president of the Wye Institute to focus on his campaign for governor. He had hinted at the prospect of running months earlier, prompting the Baltimore Sun to comment that, “[w]ith his family roots in the Eastern Shore, his law office in Baltimore and the General Assembly his sometimes area of activity [as a lobbyist], his qualifications for a general approach to State issues couldn’t be more promising.”[13] Miles became the first Democrat to enter the gubernatorial race in September 1965. With “Maryland Ahead By Miles” as the campaign slogan, Miles advocated for a limited form of open housing legislation, while also supporting reform to the state’s tax code, constitution, and horse racing industry. Miles finished fourth in the Democratic primary, but made his presence felt. Being from the Eastern Shore, Miles cut into front-runner Thomas B. Finan’s base of support in the region, enabling George P. Mahoney to capture the nomination through his anti-open housing slogan, “Your Home is Your Castle – Protect It.” Miles ultimately endorsed Spiro T. Agnew, who defeated Mahoney in the general election.[14]

Click on the play button below to hear a clip from a 1976 interview with Miles discussing the 1966 campaign.

Miles continued to work actively to benefit Maryland during his later years. While contemplating to run for governor, Miles served as a statewide chairman to the State Constitutional Convention Commission, which sought to modernize Maryland’s constitution. Governor Agnew later appointed Miles as chairman of the Maryland Gambling Commission. As chairman, Miles worked to develop a comprehensive plan to reorganize Maryland horse racing. The reorganization, known as the Miles Plan, went unadopted.[15] However, Miles’ significance cannot be seen through the lens of a failed gubernatorial campaign or an unadopted horse racing measure. Miles’ significance can be seen through his efforts in bringing baseball to Baltimore, not to mention his efforts in laying the foundation for revitalizing Baltimore and the Eastern Shore. Through his oral history interview recorded in 1976, listeners will be able to hear Miles express his thoughts on events and organizations that shaped Maryland during the twentieth century. Events and organizations which he held considerable influence. In the process, listeners will gain a rich perspective from an influential, though overlooked, figure in Maryland history. (Richard Hardesty)

Richard Hardesty is currently a doctoral student at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. In the summer of 2009, his article, “‘[A] veil of voodoo’: George P. Mahoney, Open Housing, and the 1966 Governor’s Race” appeared in the Maryland Historical Magazine. Richard’s current research examines the role the Orioles played in shaping Baltimore’s urban renewal and identity.


[1] “Clarence Miles, GBC founder, dies at 80,” Baltimore Sun (Baltimore): October 9, 1977; “Clarence W. Miles,” Baltimore Sun, October 11, 1977.

[2] In explaining the need to increase rates, Chesapeake and Potomac President A. E. Berry noted, “[t]he growth of Baltimore has forced heavy burdens upon our company and plant. For example, the number of telephones in Maryland has increased from 122,512 in 1919 to 159,722 in 1923. By 1928, we figure that there will be 206,764 telephones in the State.” Berry noted that, in order to prevent a curtail in service to a growing clientele, the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company had to increase its rates by eight percent. “Three Utilities Likely to Seek Raise in Rates,” Baltimore Sun, March 29, 1924;  “Will Join Forces Today In Fight On Phone Rates,” Baltimore Sun, July 23, 1924; “To Resume Hearing in Phone Case Today,” Baltimore Sun, October 21, 1924.

[3] “C. W. Miles Gets P. S. C. Place to Succeed Maloy,” Baltimore Sun, December 27, 1924; “T. J. Tingley Named People’s Counsel,” Baltimore Sun, March 17, 1926; “People’s Counsel,” Baltimore Sun, March 18, 1926.

[4] Charles G. Whiteford, “Democrats Again Plan To Back Ike,” Baltimore Sun, September 23, 1955; “Clarence Miles, GBC founder, dies at 80,” Baltimore Sun, October 9, 1977.

[5] Historian James Edward Miller speculated that Miles had been motivated by his political ambitions. As Miller noted, “Miles had long-term ambitions to run for political office and recognized that the prestige acquired by bringing a major league team to Baltimore would aid his eventual bid.” Miles never revealed his intentions for bringing baseball to Baltimore. Not only did Miles lose most of his records in a house fire during the early-1970s, but his memoir did little to reveal his true intentions. However, Miller’s analysis had merit, especially in light of Miles’ support of Eisenhower in 1952. James Edward Miller, The Baseball Business: Pursuing Pennants & Profits in Baltimore (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1990), 32; Jesse A. Linthicum, “Miles Offers To Buy 80% Of Browns Stock,” Baltimore Sun, September 29, 1953.

[6] The organization spent $700,000 on acquiring young talent during the Orioles first two years in Baltimore, only to have the team finish in seventh place both seasons. As a result, the Board sought to move in a new direction, pushing Miles out in the process. Miles, for his part, publicly cited his obligation to his law practice as the reason for resigning. “Miles Resigns Post as Orioles’ President Amid Atmosphere of Dissension,” New York Times (New York): November 8, 1955; “Miles Quits Board Job With Orioles,” The Washington Post (Washington): November 17, 1955; Lou Hatter, “Miles Leaves Oriole Board; Others Remain,” Baltimore Sun, November 17, 1955; Miller, The Baseball Business: Pursuing Pennants & Profits in Baltimore, 47-8.

[7] The Commission reported that only four of Baltimore’s twenty-eight wards gained tax revenues from 1925 to 1950, while seven wards lost tax revenue.  The remaining seventeen wards did not gain or lose its tax money.  As Miles noted, “[p]rojecting those trends into the future, the report concluded that the city would reach a turning point in which the growth in new development could not match the deterioration in the value and assessment of the older properties.” Clarence W. Miles, Eight Busy Decades: The Life and Times of Clarence W. Miles, ed. Jacques Kelly (Queenstown, Maryland: White Bank, 1986), 57; “City Slums Increasing, Report Says,” Baltimore Sun, November 16, 1952.

[8] Miles, Eight Busy Decades: The Life and Times of Clarence W. Miles, ed. Kelly, 58-61; “83 Leaders Form City ‘Action’ Unit,” Baltimore Sun, January 6, 1955.

[9] “Clarence W. Miles,” Baltimore Sun, October 11, 1977.

[10] Douglas D. Connah, Jr., “Shore Soon To Get Help,” Baltimore Sun, April 28, 1964.

[11] “Study Is Critical Of Eastern Shore,” New York Times, October 25, 1964; “Advice Disturbs Maryland Shore,” New York Times, February 14, 1965.

[12] “Wye Camp Dedicated,” Baltimore Sun. May 29, 1966.

[13] “While We Wait,” Baltimore Sun, June 29, 1965.

[14] Governor Harry Hughes noted in his autobiography that Miles’ candidacy played a pivotal role in preventing Finan from obtaining the Democratic nomination. In running for governor, Miles took votes away from Finan, enough to ensure that he finished third behind Mahoney and Representative Carlton R. Sickles. Without Miles’ candidacy, Finan would have received enough votes to overtake both Sickles and Mahoney. Miles’ candidacy did shape the outcome of the Democratic primary, but, in a race where Mahoney won by 1,939 votes, Miles’ candidacy did not represent the only reason behind Mahoney’s victory. Despite being viewed as a perennial loser, Mahoney had been a noted vote-getter, though his popularity had started to wane by the early-1960s. His candidacy, though, was not simply aided by Miles, but also by Finan and Sickles themselves. As the two front-runners, Finan and Sickles spent so much time going after each other that they overlooked Mahoney, allowing him to fly under the radar during the primary. Mahoney also benefitted from divisions amongst the state’s civil rights leadership, as they either supported Finan or Sickles. Lastly, Mahoney benefitted from Sickels poor showing in his home jurisdiction of Prince George’s County. Opponents attacked Sickles’ stance on open housing, to the point where some linked Sickles to the issue of busing. While Sickles ultimately carried Prince George’s County, he did so by a narrow margin, hindering his chances for the nomination. See also, Richard Hardesty, “‘[A] veil of voodoo’: George P. Mahoney, Open Housing, and the 1966 Governor’s Race,” Maryland Historical Magazine 104 (Summer 2009): 145-184; Harry Roe Hughes and John W. Frece, My Unexpected Journey: The Autobiography of Governor Harry Roe Hughes (Charleston: The History Press, 2006); Whiteford, “Miles Asks Free Homeowner Sale,” Baltimore Sun, May 18, 1966.

[15]  “Clarence Miles, GBC founder, dies at 80,” Baltimore Sun, October 9, 1977.

Oral History of the Month: Collision – People and Events that Shaped the Vietnam era in Maryland

Welcome to the inaugural post of what will be a monthly series highlighting interviews and other recorded materials from the Maryland Historical Society’s collection of over 1200 oral histories. The collection ranges from interviews with Maryland politicians such as Theodore R. McKeldin, mayor of Baltimore (1943-1947, 1963-1967) and governor of Maryland (1951-1959), to interviews with more anonymous figures, such as Baltimore screen painter Richard Oktavec. MdHS’s earliest oral history is a 1948 Library of Congress recording of an interview with Baltimore journalist H.L. Mencken; the most recent addition is a 2012 interview with Esther McCready, the first African-American undergraduate accepted at the University of Maryland in 1950.

Anti-war demonstrator, University of Maryland College Park, 1971, OH 9918. Interviewee Jordan Goodman took this photograph of a demonstrator confronting National Guard troops in front of the Administration Building at the University of Maryland, College Park during the antiwar protests that occurred on the campus in the spring of 1971.(Photograph is not part of the MdHS’s collection)

This month we’ll be spotlighting an oral history project conducted in 2008 and just recently made available to the public: Collision: People and Events that Shaped the Vietnam era in Maryland. The project, a joint endeavor between MdHS and the now defunct Doris M.Johnson High School in Baltimore, consists of eight interviews with anti-war activists and Vietnam veterans.

Maryland was host to a number of significant anti-war activities during the Vietnam War era. One of the more famous incidents occurred on May 17, 1968 when a group of Catholic activists, including brothers Philip and Daniel Berrigan, set hundreds of draft records ablaze outside of the Catonsville Selective Service office. In October of 1968, the group, which came to be known as the Catonsville Nine, was found guilty in federal court of destruction of U.S. property and interference with the Selective Service Act of 1967. Sentenced to prison terms ranging from two to three and a half years, some of the group chose to go underground; in 1978, Mary Moylan, the last remaining at large member surrendered to the FBI. The Catonsville Nine action and subsequent trial were a major influence on future anti-war and peace actions.

A larger, but less well known series of protests occurred on the campus of the University of Maryland, College Park in May of 1970. On May 1, in response to President Nixon’s announcement of the U.S. invasion of Cambodia the previous day, over 1000 anti-war protesters occupied Route One, ransacked the ROTC armory on campus, and engaged state and local police in often violent confrontations. The thirteen hour long episode marked the beginning of a three week series of violent protests that eventually saw the National Guard called in.  Although overshadowed by the deaths of four students at the hands of National Guardsmen on May 4 at Kent State University, the demonstrations were some of the largest and most violent of those that swept college campuses during that month. The National Guard also returned to the campus in the spring of 1971 and 1972 in response to student protest.

Interviewees in this project include activist and former nun, Elizabeth McAlister, widow of Catonsville Nine member Philip Berrigan (1923-2002).  McAlister discusses the Catonsville Nine action and subsequent trial and her own involvement in the anti-war movement, as well as providing insights into Philip Berrigan’s faith and philosophy. Activist David Eberhardt, in a separate interview, speaks about his involvement in the civil rights and peace movements, including his role as a member of the Baltimore Four. The group, which included Phillip Berrigan, was arrested for pouring blood on draft records at the Baltimore Custom House on October 27, 1967.

The project also contains one of the last interviews with historian and activist Howard Zinn before he passed away in January of 2010. Zinn, best known for his book A People’s History of the Unites States, discusses his anti-war activism during the Vietnam War as well as his experiences as a bombardier during World War II.  Below is a clip from the interview with Zinn speaking about the impact of Baltimore Quaker Norman Morrison’s November 2, 1965 self-immolation in front of the Pentagon in protest of the Vietnam War.

Photograph: Interviewee Jordan Goodman took this photograph of anti-war demonstrators gathering on College Avenue at the University of Maryland, College Park on May 5, 1971. (Photograph is not part of the MdHS’s collection)

For more information on this oral history project, including an inventory of the interviews, please visit the project page. (Damon Talbot)