“Tramping for justice”: The dismantling of Jim Crow in Baltimore, 1942–1954

Document Type


Publication Date


Date Added



In May 1954 the United States Supreme Court ruled that segregation in education was unconstitutional. Schools were given one year to desegregate. The Baltimore City School Board, however, ordered immediate compliance, effective the following fall. There was hesitation on the part of some in the larger community, defiance on the part of others, but the school year would proceed largely without incident. In many ways, the relative ease of the transition can be traced to the twelve years immediately prior to Brown and to the watershed event of the April 1942 March on Annapolis. During that elapse of time, the wall of Jim Crow was in effect, dismantled—taken down brick by brick. Victories against compulsory race segregation, “Jim Crow” segregation, in other areas prepared Baltimore for its inevitable demise in education. Recently, historians have worked to broaden perceptions of the underlying continuities of African American struggle for civil rights. Much of this revision has involved the aspect of time, placing the so-called Modern Civil Rights Movement (1954–1965) within broader chronological contexts. While the aspect of time will likely continue to be revisited, another possible avenue for revision that has yet to receive necessary attention, is the movement's comprehensiveness—its spaces. As important perhaps as issues of chronology is the breadth of concurrent contests over the various social spaces—residential, public, educational, and employment, for example. Through an examination of Baltimore during the period 1942–1954, this study will demonstrate that what may be termed in the singular as “the” struggle was in actuality many battles being waged simultaneously in multiple walks of life, in the various spaces of existence, and by many of the same folk. Though subtle, indirect, and non-coordinated, the multifaceted “attack” on discrimination brought about a call for an end to Jim Crow segregation. Where appropriate, this study pointedly distinguishes between Jim Crow segregation (the laws that kept blacks and whites off of the same public golf courses or public tennis courts, for example, even when they wanted to play together), and Jim Crow discrimination (the practice of hotels, department stores, and lunch counters of treating white patrons different than blacks, though not compelled to do so by law). Jim Crow segregation was compulsory. Jim Crow discrimination was undertaken voluntarily. This study is principally concerned with the demise of Jim Crow segregation in Baltimore. This study does not, however, attempt to detail, explore, or even suggest the end of discrimination and racial inequity in that city. The dismantling of Jim Crow statutes was but an important step in the process. Though the post-1954 aspects of the process itself would retrace many of the areas covered here, non-discrimination and racial equity would not be achieved for several decades following Brown. Many would argue that it has yet to be achieved.




Civil Rights




Howard University