A five-month study directed by a Howard University professor has concluded that blacks in Worcester County on Maryland's Eastern Shore are systematically discriminated against in housing, road repair, public jobs, jury selection, voter registration and admission to volunteer fire departments.
The 46-page report on the county in which Ocean City is located was released yesterday by the NAACP at simultaneous news conferences here and in Baltimore and Snow Hill, the seat of Worcester County. The Rev. Emmet C. Burns, regional director of the NAACP, alleged that "there is gross discrimination in Worcester County. The rich play there and the poor suffer. The county government knows what it is doing and has no intention of stopping."
Titled "Worcester County--A Dream Deferred," the report contends that the 8,100 blacks who made up 26.2 percent of the county's 1980 population of 30,889 are treated unfairly by the county commissioners, by the judicial system and businesses. The report did not address the treatment of blacks who visit the county.
"Ocean City is a beautiful rose, but every rose is surrounded by a thorn bush," said the Rev. John L. Wright, president of the Howard County chapter of the NAACP. "There is an apathy toward blacks in Maryland that is not unlike South Africa, and this is proof of what goes on there."
Burns and Howard professor David Honig, who with 15 D.C. college students conducted the investigation that led to the report, said they would ask officials of the county government and Gov. Harry Hughes to correct the inequities they said they discovered.
Late yesterday officials at both the county and state levels said they had not seen the report but would be willing to meet with Burns and his group to discuss it.
"If we have done anything that is illegal or immoral, we will correct it," said Roland E. Powell, chairman of the five-member Worcester County Commission.
"At this point I know nothing of what's in the report other than what the media has told me. If these people really want action, why didn't they come to us with the report first, instead of the media?" he asked.
The report made six specific allegations:
* Jury selection: Last year blacks made up only 10 percent of the county's jurors. The report says the percentage is so low because voter registration rolls are used to select jurors; it suggests that census and postal records should also be used.
* Voter registration and elective office: Requirements that residents register twice in the same year to vote in primary and general elections have held black registration to about half that of whites, and staggered terms and at-large seats in towns have blocked election of blacks, both in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act. No black has ever been elected to a countywide office.
* Affirmative action: Blacks are "virtually absent" from nonmenial jobs in county government, and on boards and commissions appointed by county commissioners and the governor; the county has no affirmative action plan and does not compile affirmative action data.
* Volunteer fire departments: None of the 600 volunteer firefighters are black and there has not been a black firefighter in the county since the 1950s.
* Roads: 11 percent of black households in unincorporated areas live along unpaved roads, compared with 1.3 percent of whites.
* Housing: An investigation of 98 homes occupied by blacks outside incorporated areas found 1,177 items that would have been considered housing-code violations in nearby towns.
Burns said the report would be presented to Worcester County officials and to Gov. Hughes "very shortly."
He said his group hoped to negotiate changes, "but if that fails we will go to administrative procedures and, failing that, take legal action against the county."
Burns said he was certain officials would not be responsive to the report. Asked if he planned to ask for a meeting with Hughes, Burns said, "Oh yeah, we'll call Horrible Harry." Asked what response he expected from the commissioners, Burns said, "I expect a number of expletives."
Powell said that would not be his response. "We've heard nothing of these problems from local blacks. We're willing to talk but we can't talk unless we get a call."
Lou Panos, Hughes' press secretary, said Burns had been scheduled to meet with Hughes last week but that Burns canceled the meeting.