By E.R. Shipp, Special to the AFRO
As Henry A. Welcome watched a gaggle of officials symbolically tear down a corner of a strip of pitiful storefronts near his home, he could not help remembering his introduction to the once-vibrant Northwood Shopping Center 55 years ago.
The Honduran native had come to Baltimore in February 1963 to visit his uncle and aunt, Dr. Henry Cecil Welcome and State Senator Verda Welcome, the trailblazer who was not only Maryland’s first black female legislator (elected to the House of Delegates in 1958; the State Senate in 1962) but also the first black woman in the nation elected to a state senate.
“When I turned on the news, the first thing I saw was Morgan students picketing this center,” Mr. Welcome, who is 77, said.
Students protestors – most of them from Morgan but also including allies from Goucher College and Johns Hopkins – had ramped up a desegregation campaign begun in earnest eight years before.
In May 1955 the AFRO had reported that a line of some 300 demonstrators – almost all from Morgan – stretched the length of seven storefronts in the shopping center. Northwood was the “only first-rate theater in the area,” according to student leader Frederick Randolph. Some showed off their linguistic skills as they sought to purchase tickets, saying in French “Donnez-moi un ticket.”
What Mr. Welcome saw in February 1963 marked what would be the final assault in the battle. “Theater Will Integrate Today; All 343 Jailed Students Free,” the AFRO announced in a Feb. 22 headline. By agreeing to admit Blacks to the theater, the owners “forestalled the threat of Baltimore becoming the scene of possibly the largest anti-segregation ever held in the nation. Students from across the country and local predominantly White colleges had agreed to take part in the protest if an agreement had not been reached.” When a grand jury dismissed charges of criminal trespass and disorderly conduct a couple of weeks later, the AFRO reported: “8 Year Battle: Morgan Students Triumph in End.”
What Mr. Welcome saw back then was a march that would lead to desegregation, White flight, gradual decline and, finally, long- overdue poetic justice as plans for a new Northwood Commons were unveiled at the Nov. 1 groundbreaking ceremony.
“This is a wonderful experience. I never dreamed I would see the things I’m seeing now — not only here but in our country,” he said. Having been inspired by the student protesters, Mr. Welcome returned to New York City, where he had lived since August 1962, worked several jobs and saved $2,000 to begin his studies at Morgan. After he earned a degree in political science, he went on to obtain a law degree from Howard University.
Despite the sense of triumph Mr. Welcome shared with those gathered in Northwood, Nov. 1, he said he was saddened by recent developments in which President Trump is stoking anti-immigration hysteria aimed at migrants from Honduras and other Central American nations. For generations, the U.S. has benefitted from Honduran natural resources ranging from bananas to gold, he said. He cannot understand the hostility towards migrants now fleeing violence and poverty in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. What’s going on in Washington, Mr. Welcome said, has him concerned that “there is a potential for a dictatorship.”