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What’s in a Name?

For George Phelps, half a century fighting for civil rights

Strolling down memory lane is more than a figure of speech to George Phelps, who can see his new namesake street from his backyard.
    At his street-naming ceremony, Mayor Josh Cohen, City Alderwoman Classie Hoyle, County Councilman Chris Trumbauer, Anne Arundel County Executive Laura Neuman and Maryland Sen. John Astle paid their respects.
    “I want you to know that I appreciate it from the very depths of my heart,” Phelps said.
    Phelps, 86, blazed trails in Anne Arundel County. In 1951, he became the county’s first African American sheriff’s deputy. He in turn deputized 200 more African Americans.
    “Twas not by choice, but chance I entered this earthly ground, and can’t understand this racial hatred because my skin was brown,” said Phelps, who sat amid a gathering of 50 friends and dignitaries as his block of Middle Way was renamed in honor of him and his late wife, Marion.
    Anne Arundel County Sheriff Ron Bateman appointed Phelps as an honorary sheriff deputy forever.
    After a decade on the job with the sheriff’s department, Phelps organized crowd control when Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. came to Washington, D.C., to lead the historic 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
    Law enforcement is only one part of Phelps’ legacy. To secure a better economic status for his fellow African Americans, he and his wife established Opportunities Industrialization Center for Anne Arundel County, the longest-running job-training program in Annapolis.
    Phelps also mentored and befriended politicians. Sen. John Astle recalled a key piece of advice.
    “If you want to get anywhere in politics in this town, you gotta know George Phelps,” Astle says he was told. Astle listened and is now serving his fourth term in the state senate.
    County Councilman Chris Trumbauer agrees.
    “No matter what time, two doors down from here, there is always a political hub of activity at George’s house.”
    Earlier this year, Phelps was named a Living Landmark for his commitment to Annapolis’ cultural heritage.
    Now George and Marion Phelps Lane runs from Drew to Vincent Street in Parole.