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Civil rights leader tells black community's elders to encourage next generation

February 18, 2008|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN - Drawing upon a lifetime of activism and conversations with black leaders such as Rosa Parks, "Daddy" King and Oprah Winfrey, Maryland civil rights leader Carl O. Snowden spoke in Hagerstown on Sunday about the legacy of civil rights in America and called on the elders of the black community to lead the next generation into the future.

"Tell your children and grandchildren that they can do anything and be anything," said Snowden, who serves as director of the Office for Civil Rights in the Office of the Maryland Attorney General. "Racism cannot exist unless people accept their inferior status."

About 50 people gathered in the Martin Luther King Jr. Center Sunday for Snowden's lecture, which was part of a Black History Month program hosted by the Washington County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Born near Annapolis to parents who worked as a maid and a butcher, Snowden said he learned the corrosive impact of racism as a young boy when he saw his friend's father, a sharecropper, spat on by his boss for being late to work.

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"Racism in its rawest form hurts people," Snowden said. "It destroys them."

Snowden grew up to establish a civil rights consulting firm which, in partnership with the American Civil Liberties Union, successfully sued the state of Maryland and several cities and counties to increase the representation of blacks in government. He also served on the Annapolis City Council and as a commentator for the Baltimore TV program, "Square Off."

On Sunday, he shared stories of the civil rights movement from 1955 through the present, painting vivid details of famous events and touching on lesser-known history along the way.

Snowden said he had an opportunity to ask Parks about her historic refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus to a white passenger. She told him about the influence of a photo that was printed in "Jet" magazine of the mangled body of Emmett Till, a black Chicago teenager murdered after he whistled at a white woman.

"Mrs. Parks told me that day in December when she was asked to give up her seat, she thought of Emmett Till, thought of that mutilated body and what happened to him and countless others, and she said 'no.'"

Snowden also recounted a story about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s reaction to a threat to blow up his home, John F. Kennedy's effort to release King from jail and the impact of King's assassination.

Turning to more recent events, he shared a story about Winfrey's early career as a co-anchor on Baltimore's WJZ 13, where Snowden also worked.

Early on, Winfrey's co-anchor encouraged her to straighten her hair, switch to contact lenses and lose weight, but still she couldn't seem to please the network, Snowden said. It was the author Maya Angelou who gave her the advice that proved key to her stardom, he said. Angelou told her, "God makes no mistakes. Be who you are," Snowden said.

Snowden concluded his lecture with a list of his goals for the future of the civil rights movement.

"We've got to understand our history, understand the great struggle that we've gone through, but it's not enough just to know your history," he said.

Blacks today, he said, must continue to strive for a better life through a focus on family, education, and the three Es -- ethnicity, excellence and ethics.

Young men in particular must be educated that they have a responsibility to raise their children, and children must be taught that education is the great equalizer, the one thing that cannot be taken away, Stanford said.

"A great education is the foundation to one's liberation," he said. "We've got to put a greater emphasis on our children."

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