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Dedication honors man who made an impression

December 01, 2006|by ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN - Strains of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" rang out on Jonathan Street during a ceremony Thursday morning celebrating the life of Bill Mason, Washington County's first black police officer.

"He's ready to cut this article out and put it in his scrapbook," Carolyn Beck said as she spoke about her late father. "I am a stepdaughter, but we never used the word step."

Mason, who died Nov. 23, 2005, was always uplifted by positive things that happened in the community, and he would save newspaper articles detailing community events, Beck said.

Beck and the rest of Mason's family unveiled two plaques at the corner of Jonathan and Church streets, near the site of Hagerstown's old jail. The jail was demolished in 1985.

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One plaque honors Mason and another details the history of the old jail as part of the Underground Railroad.

In 1847, a group of freemen attacked the jail on Jonathan Street in an effort to free fugitive slaves, but the raid was unsuccessful and the freemen were jailed, according to the plaque.

As his last official act as sheriff of Washington County, Charles F. Mades spoke about Mason, whom he first met while dealing with an unruly person in custody at the jail.

"He was one of the first people I met that made an impression on me," Mades said. "He put the fear of God in me."

Leonard Cooper sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" a cappella before Mason's son, Paul Mason, Beck and her daughter, Tramaine Beck, unveiled the plaques.

Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II shared a few words about Mason.

"He was a mountain of a man who had a heart of gold," Bruchey said.

City Councilwoman Alesia D. Parson-McBean credited Mason with inspiring her political career.

"He told me the time was right to have an African-American on city council," she said.

Paul Mason said his father touched many lives in Washington County.

"Dad was a pioneer," Paul Mason said. "He has given this county something to look up to," he said.

After leaving law enforcement, Bill Mason worked for the City of Hagerstown for 15 years, serving as personnel director before retiring in 1990.

Brian Robinson, director of Each One Teach One, part of the African American Historical Association of Western Maryland, asked that the City of Hagerstown install the plaques, a brick sidewalk and landscaping at a city council meeting in September.

In 2003, Robinson spearheaded an effort to have a plaque honoring Walter Harmon, his great-grandfather and a prominent black businessman in early 20th-century Hagerstown, placed on Jonathan Street.

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