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Howard University

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  • Dr. Francis Nunez Cardozo and Baltimore's struggle for Civil Rights

    One hundred years ago, the Maryland General Assembly wrapped up its annual session in a lively debate over whether or not to racially segregate streetcars in Maryland. HB 904, sponsored by George Arnold Frick (D) from the 3rd District of Baltimore, would have required all operators of electric railways in Maryland to establish segregated sections for whites and "coloreds." Violators would be subject to a hefty fine of no less than $50. Adjusted for inflation, that would be nearly $1,200 today. Many white citizens endorsed the idea—justifying it as a measure to mitigate a smallpox outbreak that was afflicting the city. Three Baltimoreans would die of the disease that year. Of the muted opposition to this Jim Crow legislation, Dr. Francis Nunez Cardozo was among the most prominent. Dr. Cardozo was a physician practicing out of 1524 Druid Hill Avenue and also served as the first president of the recently established Baltimore chapter of the NAACP. He held a meeting at his Upton home and prepared to send a delegation to protest the bill in Annapolis. Whatever the outcome of the protest, the bill was indefinitely postponed by a vote of 65 to 20, owing more to the perceived inconveniencing of whites than any outrage over one more injustice toward blacks. Lloyd Wilkinson (R) 2nd District of Baltimore, opposed the bill because it would be "more of a hardship on white persons than on negroes," as reported by The Sun. James A. Dawkins (D) 3rd District of Baltimore opposed the measure from a commercial standpoint, arguing it would be unfair to streetcar companies. These attitudes are emblematic of the marginalization of blacks in Baltimore at the time. White residents outnumbered Black ones by nearly 10 to 1. The long odds aside, Dr. Cardozo continued his unsung battle against racial laws in Maryland, albeit suffering the kinds of setbacks that were crushingly common in that time and that will forever be a stain on the national fabric. Later that year, for example, Dr. Cardozo and the NAACP would lose the case of James Jenkins, a rider on the Washington, Baltimore, and Annapolis Electric Railway Company who refused to be relegated to a segregated car. The case pitted attorneys Edgar Allan Poe (not the poet) and William Ashbie Hawkins against each other and was appealed from the criminal courts. The appellate judges ruled against Jenkins, and Dr. Cardozo was greeted with the sour news a few weeks before Christmas. As Cardozo endured these failures, he also ran his private practice, seeing neighborhood patients in his home clinic. He was born in Charleston, South Carolina on Valentine's Day, 1882, the second of eight children of Rev. Isaac N. Cardozo. He graduated from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in 1902 and went on to Howard Medical School. He moved to Baltimore in 1909 and met Fannie Alexander, whom he married on Christmas that year. The marriage was, from the surviving accounts, a happy one, and the couple had one daughter, Edith Alexander Cardozo. Lee Sartain, in his book, Borders of Equality, places the foundation of the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP officially in 1912, but there are no records from earlier than 1914, when Cardozo was at the helm. At this time, the NAACP was minute and fraught with disagreements on philosophy. According to the Afro-American newspaper, Cardozo liked to appeal to the broad public, and this philosophy clashed with many who wanted to preserve the NAACP as something more exclusive. These conflicts put Cardozo in a bind and he relinquished command to Hawkins in 1916, though he continued to serve on the national NAACP board for at least another year. Cardozo's letters, some of which survive as part of the NAACP Papers collection, reveal a man divided between his Hippocratic duties and his desire for justice. In one letter, written in the spring of 1916, he regrets not being able to attend board meetings because, as he pleads, "there is so much sickness […] I find time for nothing else." Other letters reveal the NAACP leadership sponsoring a Baltimore lecture by Florence Kelley, a labor reformer and suffragette. Contrast this with the aforementioned Del. Frick, who, far from politically damaged in the wake of his segregation bill, was elected to the State Senate where he would serve from 1915 to 1927 and from 1931 to 1935. During this time, the Democratic senator would oppose signing the Nineteenth Amendment and introduce a bill requiring public school teachers to take an oath of allegiance to the flag. Finished with the NAACP in an official capacity, Cardozo returned to his private practice at 1524 Druid Hill Avenue. In June, 1931, his daughter, Edith, would marry Lorenzo H. King, Jr., the son of the Reverend Lorenzo H. King of the M.E. Church of New York. Edith was a social figure in Baltimore, entertaining guests and never straying far from the local headlines. She had studied at the West Virginia Institute and Howard University as a music student. In 1935, she gave birth to Betty King and, three years later, to Lorenzo H. King, III. Her marriage to King, Jr. ended soon after the birth of her son. Cardozo, in the meantime, became a national tennis champion and remained married to Fannie until her death in January 1953. Soon afterwards, Cardozo sold his house on Druid Hill Avenue and moved in with his daughter and her second husband, Robert Wilkerson, in Washington D.C. Cardozo married Mary Sharpe Smith, a widowed nurse. Cardozo retired from medicine in 1953 and passed away on February 21, 1961. He was buried in Arbutus Memorial Cemetery outside Baltimore. The struggles of Dr. Cardozo, though mostly forgotten, helped carry the fight for equal rights that much further. The celebrated heroes that arose in Dr. Cardozo's twilight years, many of them working for a matured and hardened NAACP, were able to be that much more effective from lessons learned by men like Francis N. Cardozo. 1524 Druid Hill Avenue is now an empty lot, having been torn down sometime after 1983. No plaque marks the cradle of the Baltimore NAACP or the residence of this honorable man. His only laurels are the vines growing aside the walls that enclosed his former home, and his only trophies are the garbage that litter this hallowed spot. [Photo courtesy of Library of Congress]
  • DJ Spooky delivers keynote address at MICA's Transformations: New Directions in Black Art

    Paul Miller—better known by his creative handle DJ Spooky—remixed the keynote lecture last night to kickoff the Maryland Institute College of Art's Transformations: New Directions in Black Art conference that runs through this weekend. And...

    Documentary on Black Power TV Screens at Coppin

    Next Thursday, Shoes in the Bed Productions will dive deep into the history of one of America's most momentous decades, screening its documentary Mr. Soul!: Ellis Haizlip and the Birth of Black Power TV. In the midst of the civil rights movement, and...

    The Art of Organizing

    Ismael Carrillo has been teaching at the Maryland Institute College of Art for two years. A native of Spain, with a degree in illustration, he says he has been hoping to land a full-time job at the top art school. "I was thinking, Well, maybe I will be...

    KAL has been drawing-and occasionally influencing-history for 35 years

    Kevin "KAL" Kallaugher once saved the Block, Baltimore's notorious red-light district. Or at least that's how former Mayor Kurt Schmoke sees it. In a 2012 article, Schmoke, then the dean of Howard University's law school, wrote that in the face of...