Volume XI, Issue 6 ~ February 6-12, 2003

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<Dock of the Bay>
<Letters to the Editor>
<Bay Reflections>
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Dock of the Bay

‘Someday’ Has Come at Banneker-Douglass Museum

When it’s stories of overcoming you want to hear, you can’t come to a better place than Banneker-Douglass Museum in downtown Annapolis. Nor could you hear them at a better time than our time, when begins the long-planned $5.5 million expansion that will nearly triple the size of Maryland’s museum of African American heritage.

The very bricks and mortar of the pyramid-topped rectangle on Franklin Street cry out overcoming. Against the odds, Mt. Moriah AME Church was built in 1874 as one of the city’s first two churches for and by African Americans. And against the odds, the museum continues the life of the old church. When the congregation moved to larger quarters a century later, there was more overcoming to do. Their church was coveted by the county as a parking lot. “We had a county executive who said he’d go to jail before seeing this building stand,” said Carl Snowden, special assistant to the present Anne Arundel County executive, Janet Owens.

On ground-breaking day, February 3, 2003 a favorite story to tell was the building’s legend of overcoming. The battle against Anne Arundel County to save the church and create the museum went all the way to Maryland’s highest court. In more recent times, the building escaped integration into its sprawling neighbor, the Anne Arundel County Court House.

photo by Sandra Martin
February 3, 2003, the day ground was broken for the expansion of the Banneker-Douglass Museum beyond the old Mt. Moriah Church, was a day to “rejoice and be glad therein.”
Second, the art and artifacts collected at Banneker-Douglass Museum stir memories of overcoming. On display this month, from a collection of 6,000 objects, is an anthology of those memories. On the main floor, the exhibit Doorway to Africa speaks through masks and drums, jewelry and statuary, to the ancestral cultural groups of enslaved Africans in the Chesapeake Region. On the third floor, eight Portraits of Courage — from the museum’s namesakes to Thurgood Marshall — look down, each suggesting more obstacles overcome.

Third, the people who have prayed and persevered here for 129 years have lived the reality of overcoming.

All three forces converged in triumph this week, when finally they had overcome. Men and women who had labored for this museum for three decades set hands and feet to gold-painted shovels to break the soggy ground to give it room to grow.

“This addition triples the museum’s space, making it viable throughout the 21st century,” explained Wayne Clark of the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, who oversees the museum at the state level.
But before a single shovel touched soil, the people told their stories.

So many stories waited to be told that for two hours Mistress of Ceremonies Michelle Wright, another state shepherd of the museum, called storytellers from the dais to the podium. Governor, lieutenant governor, congressman, delegate, mayor, minister, cabinet secretary, special assistant, Smithsonian director, foundation president: They all took overcoming as their theme.

Gov. Robert Ehrlich passed over his own now well-known story of rising against the odds from Arbutus to speak instead of his “commitment” to creating new stories of success.

To his largely African American audience, Ehrlich promised attention to Maryland’s historically black colleges; minority young people “stuck” in the criminal justice system; minority entrepreneurs; history; and the creation of “legacy wealth.”

That last, he prompted his audience “is an applause line. We’re Republicans,” he said. “You’re allowed to applaud wealth.”

Lieutenant Gov. Michael Steele, Maryland’s first African American elected to statewide office, could have told his own story of rising against the odds. Instead, he praised the expanding museum as a place “this generation and generations to come will learn about what African Americans have done in Maryland.

“We are more than Nike and rap,” he said. “We need no longer look to the white man to teach and explain our history.”

Lines like that drew applause, but governor and lieutenant governor were only the warm-up act for the main event. From overcoming to struggle and back again, Congressman Elijah Cummings reached deep into his audience’s roots.

We “had to make a way out of no way,” Cummings said, and the words echoed throughout the old church, where each listener added memories to the Baltimore congressman and orator’s recital of his mother’s perseverance, his father’s tears — and his daughter’s blithe innocence of it all.

In this museum, he continued, “you are building on something already there, so the world will know what was accomplished in difficult circumstances by people enslaved.

“Our children need to understand what folks went through to get where you are,” he continued. A museum like this “allows us to never forget from where we come.”

Then, on a day speakers agreed “the Lord had made,” the congregation of Banneker-Douglass Museum stepped out into the bright noonday sun to break ground for the future.

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Oyster Lows and Woes

“Bleak, dismal, disheartening,” is how Chris Judy, Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ shellfish expert, describes this winter’s oyster harvest. As of late January, the harvest figure was 38,000 bushels, in an entire season that is expected to yield less than 50,000 bushels.
“These aren’t just statistics,” Judy says. “It’s a situation that impacts people’s lives.”

Watermen are trying to eke out an existence that, Judy says, “is meager at best.” Most oysters are harvested by January, so when December figures came in at 24,000 bushels, he called the report “obviously alarming.”
In DNR’s fall oystering survey on the Chester River, Judy saw fewer than six boats. From the Choptank River to Tangier Sound, oyster boats were also way down. Many harbors were or are still frozen in, which slowed what little activity there was. “When you see fewer and fewer watermen at the opening, there’s clearly a problem,” Judy says.

Some of those boats have been oystering for decades. On the Choptank River, Wade Murphy, captain of the skipjack Rebecca T. Ruark, reports that he’s sitting out this oyster season, the first time in 45 years on the water. “Its not worth it to me to mess up my boat,” the captain says.

Unused to “laying back,” Murphy says he’s filled his time working on his historic boat and giving a few lectures. Lectures about the past, he says, since “prospects were so bad at the beginning of the season, with 90 percent of the oysters dead in the Choptank River.”

Even so, this fall, some seven skipjacks headed up to the upper Bay to the Middle River area to go oystering. Four docked near the mouth of the Magothy, three across the Bay at Tolchester. There they remain frozen up at the dock.

Before the hard freeze, the oystermen made a little money for their work, Murphy says. Demand was up in November and December, and scarcity in those poor oystering months pushed the prices per bushel higher than last year to around $35. As for January, he echoes Judy. “Harvest has been daggone near zero. Everything is frozen up,” he says.

Oystermen got a break last week when DNR approved emergency regulations adding dredge power to oystering. Oyster dredges have been restricted to the traditional skipjack fleet, dropped and hauled back aboard by mast and boom. The new temporary regulations allow all oystermen working in the Choptank, Honga and St. Marys rivers, Pocomoke Sound and Fishing Bay to convert their boats to power dredging. [For more on this emergency regulation, see Burton on the Bay.]

“With no recovery in sight,” Judy saw one ray of future hope.

St. Marys River, the upper Bay, the Bay shore off Kent Island and Tangier Sound all had improved spat set last year, meaning that baby oysters made it through their first hazardous weeks. To survive as juveniles and beyond, they’ll need at the least “many years of rain to change this environment of increased disease and mortality,” Judy says. But, he adds, “even then, there’s no guarantee.”

— M.L. Faunce

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Hybridizing Our Roads

Imagine for a moment it’s a crisp, clear October afternoon in Bay Country. You and your family are returning from a trip to the Eastern Shore, making your way west on Route 50 toward home. Suddenly, sooner than you can say “William Preston Lane,” you’re stuck in a Bay Bridge-spanning traffic snarl. Stretched in front of you, hundreds of cars spew noxious fumes while idling under a brilliant autumn sunset.

What do you do? Sit and wait for whatever calamity that’s fallen before you to clear. Then, if you’re Annapolis Mayor Ellen Moyer, you draft a memo to Mike Mallinoff to get to work on a plan expanding the city’s environmental policies.

Over the month following Moyer’s missive, the city’s Inspections and Permits Bureau chief and his team compiled a comprehensive plan of 18 wide-ranging goals that represent the next step in the mayor’s fight to clean up the capital city.

On January 1, 2003, city departments began to switch to recycled-content paper products, biodegradable cleaning supplies, and energy-efficient business machines and appliances. City planners must also begin incorporating green building practices on all construction and renovation projects, and the public works department will continue to replace traffic signals, crosswalk signs, street lights and building fixtures with light-emitting diodes, which use less energy but last longer and burn brighter than old-fashioned light bulbs.

Annapolis Inspections and Permits Bureau chief Mike Mallinoff and Annapolis Mayor Ellen Moyer admire the engine — and motor — of the one of the city’s two hybrid gasoline-electric Honda Civics, which can attain up to 65 miles per gallon.
Moyer says the plan aims “to set the example for environmentally sensitive and energy efficient products.” To set that example, Mallinoff’s office consulted such sources as the GreenBuilding Network, the Maryland Energy Office, the U.S. EPA, the National Association of Counties, and the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives.

Despite its genesis, the plan has no stated commitment to reducing automobile-caused pollution. However, in a move that seems to be growing among greener Bay citizens and organizaitons, the city purchased two hybrid gasoline-electric Honda Civics for the Inspections and Permits Bureau.

The compact but kicky cars can get up to 65 miles per gallon and emit significantly less air and global-warming pollution than conventional models. Their technology is based on “regenerative braking”: When a driver hits the brakes or is coasting, the car converts the energy that is normally lost as heat into electricity and stores it in a battery. When the car idles, the regular internal combustion engine shuts off — the silence as you sit at a traffic light takes some getting used to — while the electric motor stands ready. At high speeds, gasoline is the primary source of power.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Anne Arundel County have also jumped on the hybrid bandwagon. The Foundation received its earlier Honda Insight hybrid, reserved for general use, through a foundation grant in 2000. The hybrid has saved the organization about $1,500 in gasoline, according to facilities manager Roger Perry. Staffers have put more than 65,000 miles on the car, which averages about 55 miles per gallon. “It’s given us absolutely no problems,” Perry says.

Land Use and Environment Officer Bob Walker drives Anne Arundel County’s hybrid Civic. While its savings have yet to be calculated, Walker has similar praise about his Honda’s performance. “It’s like driving a gas-engine car,” he says. “In fact, it runs very quietly and handles just like any other car.”

Only three hybrid models are currently available in the United States: two from Honda and one from Toyota. But Ford plans to introduce gas-electric versions of their light trucks this year, with GM and Chrysler following suit in the near future. In a promise that blows wide open the argument that requiring better fuel economy will force Americans to drive smaller, unsafe cars, all of the automakers pledge their models will get better mileage while maintaining or improving power.

The hybrid bandwagon also rolls along a different road than President George W. Bush’s futuristic State-of-the-Union proposal for the development of hydrogen fuel-cell powered automobiles. Such cars are widely hailed as a good idea, but industry experts, automakers and even the White House agree that such cars won’t be driving mainstream roads for at least 20 years. Not that Detroit will be turning down the $1.2 billion in public money the president pledged to research the idea.

So for today, hybrids remain a legitimate tool to help clean up the air and reduce dependence on Middle East oil. Mallinoff says the city is considering buying more of the ultra-efficient Civics and is also developing plans to convert buses, boats and other vehicles to alternative fuels such as compressed natural gas.

Which will have to do for now, or at least until the mayor’s next gridlock-motivated memo.

—Gary Starikoff

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Way Downstream …

On Tangier Island, icebound islanders are having a devil of a winter, and one of the problems they’ve encountered is getting their dead back to the shore for burial. The Delmarva News reports that one man who died last month was removed to Virginia by helicopter, and another’s body was ferried to Crisfield by boat through cracks in harbor ice…

In Pennsylvania, researchers at Penn State believe they have determined why groundhogs emerge sleepy into the cold in early February with little prospect for food: They’re scoping out the dating scene to prepare for mating season a month later, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported last week…

In Washington, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has pulled billboards featuring EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman’s Scottish terrier as part of a campaign against EPA animal testing. The group did so after Whitman informed them that the dog, named Coors, had died…

In Hawaii, don’t even think about bringing back coral. Three men who attempted recently to send back tons of it in crates marked “smoked fish” to sell to marine supply stores for use in aquariums are in deep trouble, facing nearly 50 counts of trafficking in endangered wildlife and other charges that could land them in jail for years, according to news reports in California this week.

Our Creature Feature comes from England, where new government regulations require farmers to keep their pigs happy with toys and straw. The government advises placing a soccer ball, metal chains or another object in the pig pen with plenty of straw so as to provide “environmental enrichment” for the animals.

Besides keeping the animals more comfortable, the rule is designed to keep pigs from getting bored and then attacking one another, the kind of things that pigs do. The rule originated at the Brussels headquarters of the 15-member European Commission, prompting some British pig farmers to sniff at “meddling Euros.” Said farmer Neville Meeker, who has 1,200 pigs in western England, “It really is unbelievable.”

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Last updated February 6, 2003 @ 3:13am