Under pressure from the U.S. Justice Department, the virtually all-white Charles County, Md., town of Indian Head has agreed to reconsider annexation requests by two adjoining black communities known as Woodland Village and Knott's Subdivision.
"It's the town's desire to resolve the controversy without further litigation," said Mayor Warren Bowie after the town signed a consent decree approved by a federal judge March 25. The Justice Department said the decree would also resolve a voting rights suit it had filed at the same time.
A government press release indicated that the decree would resolve the matter, but residents of Woodland Village, built as segregated housing during World War II for black workers at the nearby Naval Powder Factory, were not sure.
Francis Simmons, the Woodland Village civic association president, noted that the decree requires the town only to consider annexation.
"They might do the same as they did the past three times, turn us down," he said. "I'm not satisfied. Nothing is guaranteed."
Patricia Brannan, a lawyer with the Washington firm of Hogan and Hartson, which is representing Woodland Village without charge, said the decree "doesn't do the whole job." That is why, she said, Woodland Village has asked to intervene in the voting rights suit, "just in case."
Woodland Village has a virtually all-black population of about 300. Knott's Subdivision is smaller. While annexation requests from the two black areas have been repeatedly rejected, Indian Head has annexed 10 white areas, the consent decree said.
Indian Head's population at the time of the last census was 1,381. Of the total, only 21 were black.
According to the consent decree, "The parties recognize that this agreement may not result in the annexation of these areas, even if the residents so desire. The members of the Town Council," who must vote on the requests, "have not committed themselves to vote in favor of annexation."
And even if the Town Council approves the requests, the document notes, the annexations could be overturned by a voter referendum. Then, the Justice Department could pursue the lawsuit or drop the matter.