Royal V. Hart, 83

Royal V. Hart, ex-legislator and liaison to the State House, dies at 83

Royal Hart pushed for fair housing.
Royal Hart pushed for fair housing. (Bob Burchette - The Washington Post File Photo)
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By Timothy R. Smith
Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Royal V. Hart, 83, a Maryland state legislator in the 1960s who sponsored bills to promote fair housing and to repeal the state's ban on interracial marriage and who later was the chief lobbyist for Prince George's County at the State House, died Jan. 2 at Anne Arundel Medical Center after a heart attack.

Mr. Hart, a Democrat, was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates in 1962 and to the state Senate in 1966. In 1967, he sponsored a bill that led to the repeal of Maryland's long-standing prohibition of miscegenation. During early debates, Mr. Hart told The Washington Post that the 306-year-old ban on interracial marriage was "a source of concern and a source of embarrassment to Maryland."

At one point during the debates over the intermarriage laws, several legislators received postcards purportedly sent by local black ministers, protesting the repeal. The cards contained similar messages, were in the same handwriting and were postmarked from Glen Burnie, at the time a hub of segregationist activity.

"This is obviously phony as hell," Mr. Hart told The Post.

In a biographical sketch for the Maryland State Archives, Mr. Hart recalled some of the rancor over his support.

"I also remember receiving a lot of hate mail," he said, "including one long, long letter in which every paragraph ended with, 'You make me sick!' Not knowing how else to respond to that letter, I simply sent the person a get-well card, and never heard from him again."

The bill passed the legislature in March 1967 and was signed by then-Gov. Spiro T. Agnew (R).

That year, Mr. Hart sponsored a fair housing bill that banned discrimination in the rental or sale of homes and apartments with 12 or more units. It was reportedly the first fair housing law passed by a state south of the Mason-Dixon Line. But opponents of fair housing petitioned it and forced a referendum.

After a legal tussle, the law was put to a vote and overturned in November 1968 by a 69,000-vote majority. Stiffer federal guidelines superseded Maryland's voters and fair housing practices were put in place on Jan. 1, 1970.

In 1969, Mr. Hart ran for the U.S. House of Representatives against Republican incumbent Lawrence J. Hogan and lost. Five years later, he became chief legislative liaison from Prince George's and helped obtain road and education funding. He retired in 1994.

Royal Vose Hart was born in Jefferson, Ore. After Navy service during World War II, he graduated in 1948 from Willamette University in Salem, Ore. He moved to the District in 1950 and was an archivist at the National Archives. Later that decade, he opened a photography studio, which he operated until 1975.

Mr. Hart was a member of Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church in Adelphi.

His marriage to Lois Spellman ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife of 10 years, Nancy Dunn Hart of Annapolis; two children from his first marriage, Evalee Dumas of New Carrollton and Gordon Hart of Port Orange, Fla.; four stepchildren, David Smith of Bowie, Scott Smith of Mansfield, Tex., and Karen Slay and Suzi Patterson, both of Severna Park; 12 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

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