Prince George's County Circuit Court Judge James J. Lombardi, 68, grew up in Baltimore and moved to Prince George's County in 1963.
Brown v. Board of Education played a dramatic role in my legal and political life in Prince George's County. Then years after Brown, as a young attorney I moved to New Carrollton with my wife and infant son. In order to get better known in the community I joined a number of active political, fraternal and social organizations.
I soon learned that segregation in schools and housing was alive and well in Prince George's County. The county school board had been making a halfhearted attempt to dismantle its dual system of education that had been condemned by Brown. It had adopted a "freedom of choice" plan that allowed parents to request transfers to another school of their choice.
But this self-help plan wasn't working. The transfer requests got bogged down in administrative bureaucracy, and housing discrimination and blockbusting patterns kept neighborhoods segregated. There was at this time strong resistance to newly enacted fair-housing laws that had not yet begun to work.
In fact, a Baltimore contractor, George P. Mahoney, won the 1966 Democratic gubernatorial primary campaigning on the slogan "Your Home Is Your Castle," transparent code words against fair-housing laws, which led to the election of Spiro T. Agnew as governor.
In 1970 I was elected as a delegate to the Maryland General Assembly. Shortly thereafter all hell broke loose in the county, when the U.S. District Court for Maryland ordered countywide busing and uprooted children from their neighborhoods to make up for the past segregation practices of its school board.
The court found that freedom of choice was basically a subterfuge for keeping the races separate and held that busing was the only viable option available to comply with Brown.
As a lawyer I supported the federal court's decision. After all, the U.S. Supreme Court had unanimously condemned exactly what the school board had done; namely, establish a dual system of education for black and white children.
The court did not order the schools to integrate as part of some social policy or racial balancing, but rather to desegregate because of what the school board had done in the past.
It was a fine distinction and divided the county. My community of 4,000 families was a hotbed of resistance. To say that my constituents who elected me to the state legislature were upset with my support is to put it mildly.
But to the laudable credit of Prince George's County, its residents, many reluctantly to be sure, adjusted in time to the mandates of Brown and complied with the court order until it was no longer necessary for the court to address an issue best left to county government.