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Public meeting Saturday on how to commemorate 1955 Read’s sit-in

((UPDATED)) The battle may have quieted over how to protect Read’s Drug Store and other historic buildings on Baltimore’s Westside in the face of the mixed-use “Superblock” development project.

But one part of the process is quietly – and very quickly – moving forward.

A committee created by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to commemorate the 1955 civil rights sit-in protest at the Read’s Store will hold a forum at Union Baptist Church on Saturday to allow the community to submit recommendations about how the event should be honored.

Preservationists who were forwarded the email yesterday said it was the first they had heard of the meeting.

UPDATE: Black leaders and a veteran of the 1955 sit-in say they were not informed about the meeting.

“At least 20 noteworthy elected leaders predominantly African American organizations are suspiciously missing” from the list of invitees, according to Marvin L. “Doc” Cheatham Sr., past president of the Baltimore NAACP and now president of the local chapter of the National Action Network. Helena Hicks, a member of the city’s Commission for Historical & Architectural Preservation (CHAP) and a participant in the 1955 sit-in, also said she was not informed of the meeting.

SEE Cheatham’s suggested ways to commemorate sit-in below.

The meeting’s facilitator, Dr. Michelle Harris Bondima, speaking to The Brew by phone, said she had nothing to do with the process of inviting interested parties or the public in general to come to the group’s meetings. “You’ll  have to talk to the mayor’s office, I had nothing to do with that,” Bondima said. “I was simply asked to be the facilitator and accept comment from the public.”

Her email to those invited was terse.

“You or your organization must either submit written recommendations, or present to the committee,” it says.

Rawlings-Blake, a strong backer of the Lexington Square project, bowed to objections from preservationists and some civil rights leaders earlier this year, proposing a compromise that allowed a portion of the Read’s facade to be preserved.

As part of that compromise, the Downtown Partnership offered to donate $100,000 to help commemorate the Read’s sit-in, which predated the more famous 1960 Greensboro, N.C., lunch counter sit-ins that is commemorated in that city by a full-fledged civil rights museum.

Three-Minute Presentations

Saturday’s one-hour forum at Union Baptist (1211 Druid Hill Ave. from 10 to 11 a.m.) appears to be the public’s only chance to have input into how the city will memorialize the event.

“Individuals will be allowed 3 minutes to present and groups will be allowed 5 minutes,” the email says. It notes that all “written recommendations, questions or concerns should be sent to Dr. Michelle Harris Bondima at Reads.1955@gmail.com.”

Bondima, a professor at Morgan State University and project director of ACE (Academic Champions of Excellence), is the facilitator for the Mayor’s Committee for the Commemoration of the Read’s 1955 Sit-In.

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Doc Cheatham’s suggested ways to commemorate the sit-in:

• Establish the location as a Visitors/Educational Civil Rights Center whereby individuals would be able to see, read, hear and purchase educational items and memorabilia. Classes and instructions can take place, on a regular basis, by Morgan State University and other cooperating institutions of higher learning located in the City of Baltimore, i.e., Coppin, BCCC, etc.

• Large markers no less that 4’ x 8’ on both walls of the Read’s Drug Store (Lexington Street & Howard Street) identifying what happened at this location.

• Listing of the students from Morgan State College/University that participated in that specific sit-in appearing on a placard, no less than 2’ x 4’ immediately upon entering the restructured building.

• Audio by Dr. Helena Hicks and possible other sit-in demonstrators to run in a properly designated area inside the new building.

• Large picture, 4’ X 8’, of Read’s at Howard and Lexington Street dating 1963 (courtesy of the Baltimore Museum of Industry and Baltimore Heritage) or earlier appearing near the audio.

• Recapture a resemblance of the lunch counter at Read’s and place that inside the building along with the audio and listing of the students.

• Creation of a pamphlet that describes what happened to include an overview of the event, background, action taken and by whom, impact on America, influence on other cities and listing of references and other external links.

• An official date and time to officially recognize the sit-ins where citizens, community groups, elected officials, historic and civil rights leaders and organizations will be invited to a ceremony created, collectively, by the civil rights, historic preservationist, elected officials and planners.

• Location to be an officially listed as a civil rights location where visitors and students will be encouraged to visit especially in January when the sit-ins started and during Black History Month.

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  • Ktrueheart

    Communications to the Black community from our Mayor’s office is almost non-existent.  Simply look at the number of local Black journalist that routinely cover City Hall “zero = 0″.   The Mayor’s communications officer seems to have a strangle hold on the message and messenger.   Blacks are not welcome in City Hall to observe or report on activities and will definitely not be embraced if they attempt to enter the sanctum without a royal invitation.  Even concerned citizens are rejected, ostracized, labeled troublemakers and in some instances ejected from public meetings.  Don’t expect to receive clear and timely info about things of importance to the Black community from this administration … it just ain’t gonna happen!

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