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Gauging prejudice

February 04, 2005|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

HAGERSTOWN - The majority of black community members contacted Thursday said there is racism in Hagerstown but it is not a widespread, rampant problem.

Several of those interviewed scoffed at comments made by the Rev. LeRoy J. Guillory, including his assertion that Hagerstown is "the most racist place" he's ever been.

Those asked by The Herald-Mail on Thursday for their opinions on racism in Hagerstown and the recent activity of Guillory included business owners, community activists, ministers and former members of law enforcement and city government. Some did not wish to be quoted publicly.

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Guillory, chief executive officer of Ombudsman International, has called Hagerstown "the most racist place I have ever been to." Guillory, who reported receiving one in a series of hate letters, has alleged that the Hagerstown City Council is made up of "white racists."

Guillory also has said that blacks have been discouraged from participating as public officials and alleged that Herald-Mail reporter Gregory T. Simmons was the author/sender of the hate mail. Both Simmons and the newspaper have denied that allegation.

William Princeton Young, a former member of the Washington County Board of Education and a former assistant warden at the Maryland Correctional Training Center, and City Council candidate the Rev. Haru Carter Jr. of Zion Baptist Church, said Guillory is not the voice of Hagerstown's black community. They also disagreed with Guillory's assessment of racism in Hagerstown.

"I don't know how he could make that statement in the short time he has been here," Carter said. "I haven't seen it (rampant racism)."

"What's the guy been here for, six months? There's people here that go back several generations," Young said.

Young said that in his 57 years in the community he has seen conditions improve for blacks.

The Rev. Yvonne Parson of the Jonathan Street House of Prayer echoed the sentiment that Guillory does not speak for most of the black community.

Parson said she believes there is racial prejudice in the city, but that the problem is not as bad as it once was, could be or is in many parts of the country.

Parson, who has lived in the city for 43 years, called racism a two-way street.

"A lot of people, white and black, try to hide their prejudiced feelings and let it out when they desire to," she said.

Bill Mason, who worked as a Washington County Sheriff's Department deputy in the 1960s and as the city's director of personnel for 15 years, said racism is no worse in Hagerstown than anywhere else in the country.

Mason, who has lived in the Hagerstown area for more than 50 years, said he is not a supporter of Guillory. "I don't agree with him, 100 percent, at all," Mason said.

Some disagreed.

Both Andy Smith, president of Brothers United Who Dare To Care, and Erien Frazier, owner of the Black Manna Cafe on Pennsylvania Avenue, said they believe racism is widespread in Hagerstown.

Smith said he believes there is racism in city government because, among other reasons, it has not funded enough programs aimed toward the black community and has not moved ahead with requests to provide a cable channel for a public access group through Antietam Cable.

"Leaders, like myself, I don't believe have been treated fairly on the city level," Smith said.

Smith said, however, that Guillory does not represent the entire black community locally.

"The reverend speaks for himself and his own observations," Smith said. "I don't believe any one person can speak for an entire community."

Ruth Monroe, who has served on the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Committee and as director of Hagerstown Memorial Recreation Center, said she does not believe the city government is made up of racists, although she said she believes members of the City Council treated her request last year for funds to operate a pool in the city differently because she is black.

"We did receive the funds, but with some of the questions I was asked, I felt there was some prejudice involved," Monroe said.

But Monroe said racism is not rampant in the local community and that she does not agree with Guillory's assessment of Hagerstown.

"You're always going to have some people no matter what you do, where you come from, who will hold (your race) against you," she said.

Brian Robinson, president of Each One Teach One, a nonprofit organization dedicated to working with youth and adults to improve the community, said he has enjoyed a positive working relationship with the City Council.

Robinson said he does not believe Guillory has tried to work with the people he has called racists and does not "have his facts straight" on several issues.

"I have no affiliation with the gentleman, nor do I want one," he said. "If you're not trying to work with people in the city to forge any kind of positive relationship, it's nobody's fault but yours."

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