A picture appearing in today's Maryland Weekly is incorrectly identified as that of State Del. Sylvania Woods Jr. of Prince George's County. The photograph is of Woods' father.
In 1960, Prince George's County had a black population of less than 10 percent. Except in inner-Beltway communities like Glenarden, Seat Pleasant and Fairmont Heights, there was hardly a black presence to speak of.
Now, 20 years later, blacks make up about a third of the county's population and half of the public school population.
Solving the problems caused by housing discrimination and Ku Klux Klan activity were once the top priorities of the black community. Now, new issues have come to dominate the agenda.
Interviews with the top black elected officials in the county reveal that schools, the availability of affordable housing and adequate representation in county government now top the list.
Moreover, more believe that black voter participation may be the chief cause and remedy for most of the problems. Bonnie Johns, School Board
As the lone voting black member of the Prince George's County School Board (student member Sidney Moore has no vote,) Bonnie Johns has focused most of her energies on education and the problems that have followed desegregation of the county school system.
Johns feels that desegregation has had a largely positive effect on education for both black and white students, but she worries about some of the secondary problems.
"I think that the undue attention given to busing has taken away from our primary goal of creating a quality educational system for everyone," said Johns. "There are a slew of other issues that should be getting addressed that aren't."
Perhaps chief among those issues affecting black students, according to Johns, is the problem of formulating programs that meet the educational needs of the economically disadvantaged.
"Those black students who come from families where the parents have adequate incomes, are fairly well educated themselves and push their kids have benefited from the new system," said Johns.
"But I think the children who didn't have these advantages have had their needs frustrated," she added. "That's why I think we hear so much about discipline problems and suspensions. These students got more attention before integration but seem to get lost in the shuffle now.
"That doesn't mean we should go back to a segregated school system, but it does mean that we're going to have to come up with programs that address these needs."
Johns is also very concerned about the effect of TRIM on the county's school population, which is now about half black.
"If things continue the way they are going now, the cuts that the board or County Council make in the budget are going to begin to affect the children in the classroom," said Johns. Nathaniel Exum, State Delegate
State Del. Nathaniel Exum (D-25) sees political apathy, especially among newer black residents of the county, as one of the most important issues on the black community's agenda now and in the foreseeable future.
"Those of us who grew up in the South looked forward to the time when we'd be able to vote," said Exum. "Around here, there's just not enough interest in the political process. People figure that what goes on in government just doesn't affect them. And that's one of the biggest mistakes that could be made."
Exum says education is an area in which black people in Prince George's have lost ground because of political apathy.
"If more blacks and whites sensitive to the needs of the black community had been elected to that school board, I think the board would be far more responsive to our needs," he said.
Part of the problem, Exum believes, is that many of the newer black residents of the county, especially those in the middle-class communites of south-western Prince George's, have not been fully brought into the county's political process.
"These people will have to get involved in county politics," said Exum.
Though he is optimistic about the future of blacks in Prince George's, Exum wonders if progress hasn't slowed in recent years.
"TRIM and the fights over desegregation and busing make it pretty clear that we could be in for difficult times," he said.
"On the bottom line, though, I guess that means that there will just have to be more cooperation within the black community to move along any further," said Exum. Floyd Wilson, County Council
"I really worry about our criminal justice system," says County Council member Floyd Wilson. "You don't find many blacks in positions of authority in either the police department or at the courthouse. To be very frank, I think that because of all of this, the criminal justice system ends up being more antiblack than it should be."
On several occasions last year, Wilson tried to introduce legislation that would have removed from the seniority system several police positions beneath the rank of chief, and made them appointive.
County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan had promised to appoint a black to one of the positions if the bill were passed, but the legislation was killed by the County Council.
Wilson believes because there are few blacks in the police and judiciary, blacks are arrested more often, stay in jail longer, and are given more severe sentences if convicted.
"We've got to do something to increase the number of black judges and black police," said Wilson, who serves on the Governor's Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice.
Wilson has also taken issue with the county executive's housing policy.
"I don't know what Hogan is trying to do," he said. "Sure, I know Prince George's County has more than its share of low-income housing, but COG (the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments) has done a pretty good job of getting Montgomery and Fairfax to take more of a fair share."
"I just don't understand why the executive has to tear down the housing that's already up -- especially the developments around Metro stops."
Like the other black elected officials interviewed, Wilson believes that if black voter participation rises substantially in the coming years, both the judicial system and the county housing policy will become more attuned to the needs of the growing black population in Prince George's.
"I just hope it doesn't take some kind of a crisis to get people involved in the political process," says Wilson. "That's been the pattern in the past and, unfortunately, I fear that may be the pattern in the future." Sylvania Woods, State Delegate
State Del. Sylvania Woods (D-25) says the recent upsurge in Ku Klux Klan activity in Prince George's does not especially bother him or many other black leaders.
"I don't think the Klan represents the majority of white people in this county," said Woods. "And, hey -- this is 1980. Blacks folks aren't afraid of a bunch of people running around with white sheets and hoods on, burning wooden crosses."
Woods said he believes the county's growing black community is far more interested in increasing its representation in appointive and elective offices.
"Blacks make up 40 to 50 percent of the population in this county, yet less than 10 percent of the police force is black," said Woods. "I think that's ridiculous. Look at the courts.Nearly 80 percent of the people going through the system are black, but only two of the 24 judges are black. Now, there's the real problem."
Woods said the lack of adequate representation has had an impact on the delivery of justice and of many other social services.
"There's a real problem with sensitivity," observed Woods. "If a person hasn't lived in certain kinds of situations, they have no way of knowing what the dreams and aspirations of another group of people are. They just don't understand."
But Woods doesn't place all of the blame on those who run the county government.
"Obviously, a lot of the underrepresentation is a result of racism in the hiring and appointments process, but I also feel that it's partially the black community's fault," said Woods. "People just aren't participating in the political arena the way they should. They are not registering and they are not going out to vote."
Woods says, however, that he is optimistic about the prospects for reversing the situation.
"If the black officials in the 25th district get a breather in the next elections, some of them may end up pushing the candidacies of black candidates in other parts of the county.
"There was once a time when blacks in this county made up only 5 to 10 percent of the population, and had little political influence. Now, if enough black people get upset with the way the system is being run, they can throw a lot of people out of office." T. Broadwater, State Senate
"I think that this county has come a long way in the last 10 years," says state Sen. Tommie Broadwater (D-25), one of the most influential black leaders in Prince George's County. "In fact, blacks in this county have probably made more progress than any in the metropolitan area, but there are still a lot of problems that will have to be addressed."
Broadwater, a member of the state Senate since 1975, views housing, political representation and economic growth as the chief areas of challenge for blacks in the 1980s.
"The black community in Prince George's has a difficult time dealing with a county executive who seems to be determined to move all of the poor and moderate-income people out of the county," says Broadwater. "He (Lawrence J. Hogan, the county executive) just doesn't seem to realize that this county is large enough to hold people of all races and economic categories."
"Our county is already the most diverse in the metropolitan area," said Broadwater. "We have blue-collar workers, white-collar workers, farmers, suburbanites, urbanites, blacks, whites. It's been like that for a long time and it should stay like that."
Broadwater said he is worried that the county government may tear down most of the public housing in the area, and leave many of the residents homeless.
"Some of these developments need tearing down but I think when you do that, you have to give the people who live there a place to go," said Broadwater. "I just don't see the executive doing that, and I wonder about his motives."
Broadwater said he feels increasing the number of black elected officials in Prince George's would have a major impact in the debate over housing and other matters of primary concern to blacks.
"You have to have representation in the backrooms speaking for you or you don't get heard," said Broadwater. "By the time the next election rolls around, I don't think there's any question there will be more black candidates running for office all over the county. It's really a question of survival."
Economic expansion will also have to be a priority of the black community, according to Broadwater.
"Black people are going to have to get in the economic mainstream of the county," he observed. "Until that happens, I don't really feel that anyone can claim to be a first-class citizen." D. Marshall, County Council
Deborah Marshall, a five-year resident of Prince George's County who is in her second year as a County Council member, says displacement and substandard housing are two of the most important issues in the black community.
"I think that the black community will have to make sure that what's happening in the District doesn't happen in Prince George's County," said Marshall. "Everyone knows that there's now a major migration back to the cities in general and D.C. in particular, and that families are being displaced because of the movement.
"Now, once the developers run out of space in the city, they're going to start looking seriously at close-in areas like Capitol Heights and Seat Pleasant," she added. "I could very easily see an area like Seat Pleasant becoming very attractive to affluent whites who want to move back to the city."
Marshall believes proximity to the city and the new Metrorail stations, scheduled to open soon, would be the primary drawing cards for major developers once uninterested in the largely low- to moderate-income communities along the District's eastern border.
"It'll be important for the people who already live in these established communities to fully realize just how valuable their property is and what their rights are when they are approached by developers," said Marshall. "Black municipal and county leaders will have to make sure that every political lever available is used to make sure displacement doesn't become the kind of problem it's been in the District."
Marshall, who chairs the council housing committee, also worries about the substandard housing in many black communities in the county.
"One of the biggest roadblocks that you have to confront when you deal with the problem is that everyone sees it as black-only problem." she said. "If we ever get past that difficulty, we may be able to realistically and effectively deal with it."
She said effective answers to present and future problems of substandard housing and displacement will depend largely on blacks increasing their political power in the county.
"To most people in this county, the black community in Prince George's County and the 25th legislative district are one in the same, but pretty soon it will become clear that there are enough blacks to swing an election in almost any district in this county," said Marshall. "When that happens, we'll begin to see some real changes made -- real impact made in the problem areas."