Robert H. Kittleman was a 30-year-old engineer for Westinghouse Electric Corp. when he was transferred to Baltimore in 1956 and settled in Howard County. Where he had grown up in Iowa, Democrats were a rare species. Like his father, a circuit court judge, Kittleman got involved in Republican politics.
As he looked over the voter registration rolls in the southeastern part of the county, Kittleman was surprised to learn that about half the Republicans were black. In a county that was overwhelmingly Democrat and run by whites, they were drawn to the party of Abraham Lincoln.
"I had never shaken hands with a black person in my life," Kittleman, 78, said at his West Friendship farm. "There wasn't a Negro in the whole county [in Iowa] where I lived."
Kittleman started shaking hands and assisted Howard's black Republicans in getting out the vote on election days. He got to know the ministers, educators and community activists. They sought his help in pushing a reluctant school system to integrate the county schools.
In the early 1960s, Kittleman became the first white member of the Howard branch of the NAACP. As chairman of the group's education committee, he and NAACP President Silas E. Craft Sr. became a familiar pair at Board of Education meetings.
"There was a little bit of consternation in the Republican Party, I guess," said Kittleman, who has served in the Maryland General Assembly the last 22 years as a delegate and state senator. There were rumors that Kittleman was going to sell his house in his all-white neighborhood to a black family.
"People were talking and stuff like that -- what's going on here," said Kittleman, who pulled out a scrapbook of yellowed newspaper clippings about efforts to desegregate Howard schools in the 1960s. "There's got to be something we don't understand."
The explanation, he said, was much simpler.
"The injustice of it was so bad," he said. "There were a lot of very, very good people who were really getting shafted. Their teachers got paid less than the white teachers. Their schools got an awful lot less support. It just wasn't right."
-- SUSAN DEFORD