Wave of Campaigns
Time period notes
Notes on Methods
Baltimore Civic Interest Group
Reverand Frederick Jones Sr. of Bethel A.M.E. Church
Involvement of social elites
Nonviolent responses of opponent
Groups in 1st Segment
Additional notes on joining/exiting order
Success in achieving specific demands/goals
Notes on outcomes
Chestertown, situated in the Eastern Shore of Maryland, was one of the few northern parts of the U.S. still segregated in the early 1960s. Most African Americans could not vote. Only three black students were enrolled in the local Washington College. Moreover, the only school in Chestertown that accepted black students from the 1st grade to 12th was the Garnett School.
Other public facilities were highly segregated: hospitals, theaters, restaurants, bowling alleys, and skating rinks. African Americans were prohibited from sitting down to eat in many local bars and restaurants; take-outs were allowed. The latest hospital built at that time had eight out of fifty beds specifically designated for black patients. Four beds were in a single room, and sometimes the infectious and non-infectious patients were designated to use the same room. In movie theaters black patrons were only allowed to sit in the balcony. Dale Patterson, one of the three students admitted to Washington College, recalls, “I just decided that I would not ever go to the movie in Chestertown, because I refused to sit upstairs. I also did not want to be lynched.”
In the part of Maryland on the other side of the Chesapeake Bay from Eastern Shore, a civil rights campaign had already succeeded in 1961, led by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). (See CORE's Route 40 Project: Maryland campaign for desegregation and U.S. Civil Rights, 1961.)
In January 1962, sit-ins came to the Eastern Shore itself, in the nearby city of Cambridge, MD. The Cambridge sit-ins were initiated by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). (See, Cambridge, Maryland, activists campaign for desegregation, USA, 1962-1963)
The next month – February – was Chestertown’s turn, in an initiative taken by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The Chestertown campaign came to be known as the “Freedom Riders.”
The mostly young activists were partly inspired by the Freedom Rides, the campaign designed by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) to integrate public transportation in 1961 by sending interracial teams to ride interstate buses. They used the sit-in as their major tactic, but because they drove in from elsewhere to conduct their campaign, they were nicknamed “freedom riders.” (See also, Freedom Riders end racial segregation in Southern U.S. public transit, 1961)
On February 3, 1962, 145 students (72 from New York City, 20 from Swarthmore College, 4 from Yale University, and the rest from the colleges around Maryland) arrived in the town via two Greyhound buses and roughly a dozen private cars. They were led by Philip Savage, Philadelphia Regional Director of NAACP, with the assistance of the Baltimore Civic Interest Group led by Clarence Logan.
The activists were informed beforehand where to meet and how to conduct themselves. The Rev. Frederick Jones Sr. of Bethel A.M.E. Church allowed his church to be the staging area for the campaign. The church offered shelter, food, first-aid, and further trainings. The campaigners were told to behave nonviolently, in this case to “speak softly and politely, and to enter and leave premises in a peaceful and orderly manner.”
The standard strategy for the activists was to send a biracial group to targeted places and engage in sit-ins. Their main targets were the public and local facilities that reportedly had a history of using trespassing laws to maintain racial segregation: Bud Hubbard’s Bar, Lee’s Restaurant, Riverside Restaurant, The Tally-Ho, Home Restaurant, Queen Anne’s Bowling Center, and others. Some of the restaurants served the campaigners, while other restaurants stubbornly refused.
Several town residents and Washington College personnel (four faculty members as well as students) joined a support march. Lycurgus Henry, one of the residents involved, provides a glimpse into the strategy that the campaigners employed. He recalls, “When the demonstrators arrived, the restaurant owner would come to the door and read the trespassing law. At that point, anyone in the group who stayed on the property could be prosecuted. That group of protesters would then leave and another would take its place and the routine would be repeated.”
Warned beforehand, the Maryland State Police reportedly sent some thirty cars—most of them from outside Chestertown — to protect the activists and town residents in case violence occurred. The opposing white residents from the town brought baseball bats and other makeshift weapons to threaten and beat the protestors. One black picketer recalls an angry white opponent spitting in his face. Reportedly, two assaults on Washington College people (a student and a librarian) went to criminal trials.
The activists faced the most vehement repercussions in Bud Hubbard’s, a bar with a racist reputation. Hubbard, the owner of the bar, invited 300 “friends” and provided them with plenty of beer to fill the space so that the activists could not come inside. When the first group of protestors arrived at the restaurant, some angry white crowds pursued and pummeled them on the street.
A second group of people—roughly fifty angry local African Americans—arrived at the same place about an hour later. As more violence broke out, the police arrested three people, charging “two blacks with carrying concealed weapons, and one white man…with assaulting a state police photographer.”
Public reaction toward the campaign varied widely. Washington College’s President Gibson spoke on behalf of his institution and remained neutral, neither supporting nor prohibiting students’ involvements in the campaign. Elmer Hawkins, the black Garnett School principal left the town for a while to avoid the trouble and warned the teachers that they should not participate in the campaign. His temporary flight made him lose the respect that he had garnered from the black community in the town.
There were follow-up demonstrations after February 3, as well. On February 10, 1962, local black campaigners revisited some restaurants. The backlashes had become milder—reactions were reportedly limited to “few eggs thrown”. On February 17, 1962, as support for racial integration heightened, Pastor Jones of Bethel A.M.E. Church formed a Kent County regional chapter of NAACP, and more than hundred people attended its second meeting.
After a few weeks, the Freedom Riders moved on to different locales. While some facilities—including Bud Hubbard’s—remained obstinate, other parts of the town “quietly moved to integrate its commercial and public facilities.” One of the possible reasons for such concession made relatively easily by the whites was that they wanted to avoid further violence. The civil rights campaign that began the previous month in nearby Cambridge, MD, had escalated to a higher amount of turbulence than Chestertown had yet experienced.
Local boycotts ensued right after the campaign by the regional NAACP, but they failed after a week or so. Gradually, however, most restaurants, movie theaters, bowling alleys, public schools, and hospitals desegregated, a process largely completed by 1963.
Freedom Riders who arrived Chestertown--mostly young student activists--were influenced by the original Freedom Riders, who fought public transit segregation in the Deep South in May 1961, and by civil rights campaigns on Route 40 and in Cambridge, MD. (1)
After the Freedom Riders left, there have been local boycotts led by the Kent County Chapter of NAACP, which largely failed. (2)
“Freedom Riders Led Fight Against Segregation.” Peter Heck. February 20, 2011. http://www.stardem.com/article_a2c1a8f2-ee8f-51bb-987d-09f3e6689ec6.html
“Chestertown is Segregated to its Very Roots.” Paul S. Cowan. July 23, 1962. http://www.thecrimson.com/writer/2294/Paul_S._Cowan/
“The Vintage Elm: Freedom Riders.” The Elm. February 9, 1962. http://elm.washcoll.edu/past/077/15/thev.php
“Maryland Easternshore Project.” http://www.crmvet.org/tim/timhis62.htm
“A Look at Civil Rights History in Chestertown.” Podcast by Tom Horton. http://www.ondelmarva.org/?p=334
Women's Leaaue of Washington College. Washington: the College at Chester. The Literary House Press, 2000. http://www26.us.archive.org/stream/washingtoncolleg00harw/washingtoncolleg00harw_djvu.txt
“Chestertown faces another test against.” Salisbury Times. February 12. 1962. http://newspaperarchive.com/salisbury-times/1962-02-12/