EASTON – Dozens of civil rights activists, African American leaders and passionate individuals joined the Summer’s Freedom Bus Ride on Monday to highlight historic and contemporary racism and concerns about policing on the East Coast.
Inspired by the journeys of the Freedom Riders during the civil rights movement in the 1960s, the bus made stops at important landmarks in Easton, Cambridge, Salisbury, Berlin and Ocean City to raise awareness of activists’ struggle for the racial equality and justice and the end of police brutality.
Freedom Bus passengers first stopped in Easton at the Talbot Boys Confederate monument to listen to local advocates talk about the issues surrounding the statue.
The monument, which was erected and placed on the lawn of the Talbot County Courthouse in 1916, has been a point of contention in Talbot County in recent years. Opponents of the statue argue that it is a symbol of racism and white supremacy; those in favor of its retention argue that removing the statue would erase the county’s history.
Talbot County Council voted 3-2 to keep the monument in place in August 2020. A federal lawsuit was filed in May 2021 to seek to remove the statue from the courthouse grounds at the upper level.
Before local activists spoke about the monument, the crowd tied their arms and gathered to sing “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round,” a song about freedom frequently sung by participants in previous movements of defense of civil rights.
“The only thing I can tell you is that we have three board members who embody the messages that this monument has sent out, namely racism, bigotry and hatred for a group of people,” said Richard Potter, chairman of the Talbot County branch. the NAACP.
The Talbot County NAACP branch and other groups supporting the monument’s relocation “tried” to work with county officials, but they were “unwilling” to work with the groups, Potter said. One of those groups is the Move the Monument Coalition, whose members in yellow shirts have come to the courthouse lawn in solidarity with the Freedom Bus passengers.
The coalition, which formed after the death of George Floyd last summer, “believes that this monument has no place on a public site of justice and equality,” said Jess Taylor, member of the leadership team of the Coalition.
The Freedom Bus then stopped at Harriet Tubman Memorial Park in Cambridge, taking a minute’s silence to remember Tubman and Gloria Richardson, another local civil rights activist who died at age 99 last Thursday.
Cambridge is an important location in the African-American civil rights movements in Maryland. Tubman, who was born in Dorchester County, freed many of the area’s slaves in the mid-1800s. Richardson was born in Cambridge and was active in the 1960s civil rights protests in the city. A notable figure in the local civil rights movement, Richardson is well known for signing the Cambridge Treaty in 1963 with then Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and fighting for civil rights and justice for the rest of his life.
Crowds in Cambridge were of all ages, but Sandy Bartlett delegate D-Anne Arundel had a message for the next generation of civil rights activists.
“If you look around today, you will see young people among us; we teach them that expectation is not about racism, equality and opportunity for everyone, ”she said. “So this march today, this Freedom Ride, is to send the message that we will no longer tolerate racism.”
Freedom Bus drivers Drake Smith and Erin Shields, both 18, are recent graduates of Anne Arundel County high schools. The two came together on the bus to advocate for civil rights and bring a young performance to the tour, hoping to inspire others to get involved.
“Last summer I felt bad because I didn’t really speak a lot, I didn’t participate in any protests,” Shields said. “So I wanted to introduce myself, definitely as a youngster to represent and make a difference.”
“I just don’t want people to think it was a unique thing, do I?” Smith said. “It’s an ever-changing struggle, and we’re right here until we get the justice we’ve asked for.”
The Freedom Bus Ride tour also made stops at the Lynching Memorial in Salisbury and the American Legion Post in Berlin to learn about local black history and discuss racism and the police with members of the community. . After meeting with the Freedom Horsemen at the memorial, Salisbury Mayor Jay Day endorsed the leaders’ efforts to tackle systemic racism and police misconduct. Day also told the group that he stands by his officers when they are right and will discipline them when they are wrong.
A final stop in Ocean City marked the end of the Freedom Bus passenger journey. Bus civil rights leaders originally planned to address the mayor and city council at a regular city council session, but that council meeting was called off.
However, executives were still able to speak with Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan, calling on him to reconsider an Ocean City Police Department investigation after an incident last month. They also asked Meehan to consider hiring an equity official – an official who would promote equal opportunities and minority businesses in the city – which he said he would take under advisement. . Meehan also pledged to have future meetings with Worcester County NAACP Chairman Ivory Smith.
“We don’t listen to what politicians say, we watch what they do,” said Carl Snowden, the event’s organizer, speaking on behalf of the Caucus of African American Leaders. “We look forward to seeing what the mayor will do about the promises he has made.”
The tour culminated with a protest on the Ocean City promenade, where local police are under surveillance following the use of force and the arrest of two black teenagers who allegedly violated the vaping ban on the town last month. Ocean City, its beaches, and other towns across the coast historically had segregationist laws and atmospheres designed to exclude or restrict access to blacks and other minorities.
Freedom Bus riders hope their tour and protests will continue to raise awareness of police brutality and systemic racism on the East Coast. For Jo Ann Scipio, who has come on the bus to represent the Caucus of African American Leaders and its historically black sisterhood Delta Sigma Theta, the public should know they are serious.
“Like they said, when you laugh at one of us, you have to take care of all of us,” Scipio said.
Natalie Jones is a reporter for the Star Democrat in Easton and covers crime, health, education and Talbot County Council. You can reach her with questions, comments or advice at [email protected]