"Something That Is Worthy":
The Campaign of 1897, Part 1
Spring 1897 proved difficult for Baltimore's black leadership elite. As they struggled for recognition and respect consummate with their education and ability, they faced numerous obstacles, both internal and external. On one hand, many must have felt an embarrassed disappointment when Dr. George Wellington Bryant, appointed as black Baltimore's first civil servant in 1896, succumbed to scandal. As the Bryant scandal was coming into the open, grand jury indictments for embezzlement were being handed down against Everett J. Waring, celebrated attorney, first black admitted to the Maryland Bar, and one-time president of black-owned and operated Lexington Savings Bank. While graft was certainly not uncommon, or for that matter unexpected, Bryant and Waring won their opportunities thanks to decades of struggle in which neither man had been apart. On a broader level, Bryant and Waring were symbols of progress, "firsts"; and all such designees carry the weight of the expectations of well-wishers.
More pressing than these black eyes on the race, however, was the writing on the wall foretelling of a white Republican and Independent-Democratic collusion which promised to push blacks even further to the fringes of local and state politics. Enthusiastic debate and wide-ranging opinion surrounding the proper response to these developments marked the atmosphere among blacks as the 1897 elections approached. Matters reached a critical juncture during March 1897. The Colored Citizens Committee of One Hundred, a black political group consisting of old black elites and young upstarts, called a meeting at the Samaritan Temple at Saratoga and Calvert. "We are a part and parcel of the republican party, and we intend to share in the distribution of the offices." With that, George Motley Lane, a thirty-one year old Virginia-born lawyer, stated in no uncertain terms what white republican leaders were trying to ignore: "They say you are only fit to drive a garbage cart or work on a dirt pile, while they leave the intelligent negro out of the question. Put up your own candidates and convince them that negroes have some brains and are not fools all the time." The idea of a bolt from the republican ranks was tossed around openly. Attorney W. Ashbie Hawkins added, "Our position tonight is worse than it was twelve years ago. If we let the white men use us as catís paws to pull their chestnuts out of the fire, it is our fault and not theirs. We are put further in the background than before." The veteran activist and community leader Dr. H.J. Brown remarked, "If the colored voter wishes to demand equality of political rights and emancipate himself from the present degrading political slavery, he must take practical action at the ballot box." Brown challenged the audience to seek not only patronage in the form of appointed positions, but to demand opportunities for self-empowerment consequent with elective office, and to hold the latter as the preferred form of patronage. "So long as the colored voter always draws the color line by always nominating and electing white men to office, just so long will he be discrimated against." Blacks proposed the nomination of at least three black legislative candidates from the heavily black wards of the city. Brown suggested, "Give them to understand that if they vote for our candidates we will vote for theirs." No attempt was put forth to disguise or soften their frustration with the republicans: "Under the present ostracism what difference does it make to us whether democrats or republicans are elected," stated, Brown "We are between the devil and the deep sea...We get nothing from the republicans, who get all our votes, and we can get no less from the democrats."
Those gathered resolved to convene in official fashion two months later for the purposes of shaping a position on the upcoming fallís elections. Five delegates from each of the cityís wards would work together to shape an agenda. "From this time onward we shall tell tell republican leaders if they donít realize it, that the world is moving, and that the colored race is moving straight along with it, and that today, were it not for difference of color and hair, thousands of Afro-Americans could not be distinguished in general make-up from the more favored and aggressive Anglo-Saxons."
Proclaiming that, "The cases of Waring and Bryant will have nothing to do with the movement," a few weeks later, in April, at the second convention, held in Asbury Hall, Lexington St., Colored Citizens Committee of One Hundred chairman, George M. Lane presented a number of resolutions. Among these were the following:
It is the duty of the colored voters to secure the nomination and election of such candidates, colored or white, who will best carry out the principles of the party platform and administer the wants of the prople, regardless of race, color or previous condition of servidtude.
All laws discriminating against a people or class are odious, unconstititutional and void and ought to be stricken from the statute books.
"While we pay taxes we want to be represented, and we will send colored men to Annapolis or defeat the republicans...This will be considered revolutionary, but it is what we want." Fighting from the start rumors that their movement was in truth a Democrat-financed ploy to split the republican vote ("All know thatís a lie!," exclaimed Ashbie Hawkins), the Colored Citizens Committee of One Hundred called a meeting on May 12th for the purposes of drawing up an independent ticket. The May 12th Convention, held at Calvert Streetís Samaritan Temple, saw the black mugwumps (independent Republicans) resolved to call their own state convention, to nominate candidates for various offices, local and state, and present these nominees to the regular Republican Party officials. If an acceptable number of the black nominees were incorporated into the Republican ticket, a stand-off would be avoided. If the regular Republicans refused to cooperate, the black convention-goers would bolt. Explained attorney Hawkins, "Had our white leaders done their duty and fulfilled their promises the party would have been entrenched in power for thirty years." "I am a mugwump," proclaimed W. Frederick Allen, "and the man who best cares for my people shall get my vote. I am tired of acting as the tail to the republican kite."
Power and influence within the state's Republican Party structure were very much contested as the 1897 elections approached. William T. Malster, President of the Columbian Iron Works and Dry Dock Company, and Congressman Sydney Mudd, influential Charles County Republican, stepped forth to challenge control of the party, then enjoyed by Gov. Lloyd Lowndes and U.S. Senator George L. Wellington. Two separate state party primary elections were held during the Summer 1897. William T. Malster, running for Mayor of Baltimore, did his best to retain the loyalty of some blacks. Aware of the demands voiced by black leaders at the three spring meetings of the Citizens Committee of One Hundred, Malster, a Republican, attempted to woo black support by appointing a few blacks as delegates to nominating committees.
Malster's ploy proved successful, particularly with those who had a measureable stake in the partyís success. For example, one-time city councilman Harry Sythe Cummings, seeking to regain a seat on the city council in 1897, stumped regularly for the Malster ticket. It was hoped that Cummings could solidify the black vote for Malster's republicans. As the party prepared to convene a state convention in Ocean City that fall, two factions, "Malsterites," and the mainstream "Organization" (of Gov. Lowndes and Sen. Wellington) held separate legislative nominating conventions. A few blacks were selected as convention delegates by each faction. At this time, late August 1897, less that two months before the elections, however, legislative nominees had not yet been chosen. The issue of nominees proved pivotal, for many suspected that in exchange for their election day support, Malster promised black leaders that he would have three black nominees (one from each legislative district) run on the state party ticket for seats in the Maryland House of Delegates.
In spite of these rumors, founded or not, the black press called for a closing of the ranks around the independent movement. "This is what the colored people need," editorialized John H. Murphy's Afro American, "Let us get together and we will accomplish something that is worthy." Apparently, however, some black leaders were willing to allow the Malster Republicans every opportunity to satisfy black demands. A number of would-be bolters cooperated with the party nomination process as late as the September repeat primaries, while others, frustrated with the waffling over the decision to bolt or not, wondered aloud whether or not the Committee of 100 had "fallen asleep."
With Malster Republicans fully endorsed, and clearly in command of the party campaign, attention focused on the nominee list: who would be on the party's ticket? Influential blacks like physician Whitfield Winsey and mugwump leader W. Ashbie Hawkins raised the eyebrows of white rank and file Republicans when their names appeared (along with a third black man, Walker W. Lewis, a grocer) on the proposed House of Delegates nominee lists. The Sun realized the motivation for these proposed nominees when it reported: "Colored candidates for the Legislature will be an innovation in Maryland politics. Leading colored men of the city for some time have openly expressed dissatisfaction at what they termed a lack of recognition, as signs of open revolt have recently grown more pronounced. It is with the purpose of holding the colored vote well in line that the selection of colored canditates for the House of Delegates has been decided upon." On the local level, Harry S. Cummings, a "Malsterite", was being challenged in his bid for a seat on the Baltimore City Council from the eleventh ward by another black man, George B. Mills. Mills was reportedly put up by the "organization" of Senator George L. Wellington, recently defeated in the mayoral primaries by Malster, adding a third dimension of black republicans, those loyal to the outgoing Senator Wellington. Cummings survived Mills's challenge by a plurality of 207 votes.
As the proposed list of nominees for the House of Delegates was pared down, of the three blacks originally named, only the first legislative district's Whitfield Winsey remained. Whether Malster made the promise in good faith is not known. What is certain, however, is that pressure of white republicans was immediately brought to bear upon the idea of black men in Annapolis. For if the promise to place a colored candidate on each of the three legislative district tickets was to be fulfilled (as the Sun quickly pointed out), in addition to the already objectional Winsey nomination, "one of the white candidates in the second and one in the third district will have to be dropped." Some Republicans urged the party to meet these modest demands. Others, however, feared the loss of independent Democratic support and the defection of white Republicans state-wide. According to one independent Democrat who had voted for the Republican ticket in the elections of 1895 and 1896, "I will not under any circumstances whatever vote for a negro for the legislature of for any other office, and I will vote against the whole republican ticket if a negro is put on it. There are thousands of other independent democrats in this city who feel just as I do on the subject and who will act in the same way...I do not consider [blacks] fit to make laws for me or to become my representatives as Annapolis. You may call this prejudice or by any other name you please, but it is a feeling that I shall never surrender." Others supported this contention, pointing to the unstable, often violent nature of race relations at the time: "There is nothing more dangerous than to fly in the face of prejudice and sentiment."
Thus with less than two months left until the election, white republicans were faced with a choice: choose to support a black republican who faithfully toed the party-line for more than a quarter-century with little to show for it, or risk losing the newly won independent Democratic vote and showing irreversible offense to the black partymen. In the socio-political context of late-nineteenth century Maryland, the choice was a foregone conclusion.
Copyright: Maryland State Archives, 1997