The Maryland Democratic Party has mailed out hundreds of thousands of pamphlets this week that connect the gubernatorial bid of Anthony G. Brown to the country’s sometimes painful struggle for civil rights — including Freedom Summer in 1963 and the recent racial tension in Ferguson, Mo.
There are two versions of the six-page pamphlet. The wording and format on each are similar, but different assortments of photos are used.
One pamphlet includes two photos of young black men with their hands up, which are labeled as being from Ferguson. Those images appear under the words: “But they’re still trying to hold us back...” The other pamphlet includes a black-and-white photo from the 1963 March on Washington, along with photos of a segregation sign and a polling station where identification is required to vote.
The Aug. 9 shooting of an 18-year-old black man by a white police officer in Ferguson has sparked weeks of protests and a national conversation about racial disparities and the militarization of some police forces. With midterm elections on Nov. 4, the high-profile incident has been discussed on campaign trails across the country.
But the Maryland Republican Party deemed use of the photos in campaign literature “absolutely disgusting,” according to a tweet from the group’s main account on Friday morning. Joe Cluster, executive director of the state party, acknowledged the tweet on Friday afternoon but would not comment further.
Brown, who is currently the state’s lieutenant governor, would be the first African American governor of Maryland if elected. He said in a statement Friday evening that the pamphlets — produced by the party, not his campaign — convey the importance of voting and provide information about early voting, which began on Thursday in Maryland and ends Oct. 30.
“The right to vote has been secured by many people over the course of this country’s history, and that right shouldn’t be taken for granted,” Brown said in a statement. “This mailer reminds voters of the challenges that have been overcome to extend the right to vote and it gives information about early voting, and that’s a good thing.”
Jared Smith, a spokesman for the Maryland Democratic Party, said the booklets were sent to “hundreds of thousands of Maryland Democrats across the state.” He would not say when or where the party sent the pamphlets, how much they cost, why there are two versions or how the party decided which voters would receive which version.
The heading for the March on Washington picture states: “It’s been a long journey . . .” Photos on the next two pages show Donald Trump in front of a billboard asking about President Obama’s birth certificate and white protesters around a poster that says blacks should “go back to Africa.” Against a dark backdrop are the words: “They’ve placed roadblocks in our path at every turn. In Maryland, it’s our turn to take an important step in the journey . . .”
Then come two bright pages featuring photos of Brown, a brief biography and a reminder that he could be “Maryland’s first African-American governor.” The pamphlet also includes information about early voting and says: “No one can say he’s not ready or not qualified. History is watching to see if we vote.”
The other pamphlet’s cover features side-by-side photos of Martin Luther King, Jr., and President Obama under the words: “We’ve come a long way on our journey...” Inside are the two photos from Ferguson, labeled as such, plus the Trump photo and a shot of protestors holding a sign that says “Impeach Obama.” The wording on those pages reads: “But they’re still trying to hold us back. Maryland, it’s our responsibility to take another step in that journey...”
That version also dedicates two pages to Brown. On the back is a photo of the candidate with Obama with the headline: “In Maryland, we’ve got their backs.”
Smith released a statement late on Friday on what the party meant by using “we” and “they” in the first few pages of the mailers.
“The ‘we’ in this flyer represents all organizations and individuals, throughout the history of this nation, that have fought and continue to fight for greater participation, inclusion and access to voter rights,” Smith said in the statement. “And ‘they’ represents those who have historically, and even in recent elections, worked against greater access and voter participation, including suppressing the vote.”
Brown has largely avoided talking about his race on the campaign trail, instead focusing on issues that he says matter to all Marylanders regardless of their background. Brown mentions in most stump speeches that his father grew up in poverty in Jamaica and went on to become a doctor who provided free medical care to the poor.
Last year, when one of Brown’s opponents in the Democratic primary accused him of relying too heavily on his race to win, Brown’s running mate came to his defense.
“This campaign isn’t about black or white, Asian or Latino,” Howard County Executive Ken Ulman said in August 2013.
Smith, the party spokesman, added on Friday: “We don’t think there’s anything wrong with the people of Maryland having pride in electing their first African American governor and breaking through another ceiling.”
Brown’s Republican opponent, Larry Hogan, has been trying to court black voters by promising to improve the economy and increase the number of jobs. In early September, Hogan told a mostly black audience at Bowie State University that experts have also told him “that my opponent doesn’t even have to bother to show up in front of a predominantly African American audience because . . . he has your vote locked up.”
“Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to vote for or against someone just because of their party affiliation or the color of their skin,” Hogan said. He is white, but his running mate, Boyd Rutherford, is black.
Brown spoke candidly about race during a May 2007 interview on NPR’s “Tell Me More,” when host Michel Martin pointed out the similarities between Brown and Obama, then asked: “You’re African American. Does that have any relevance to your political career?”
“Yeah, it certainly does,” Brown answered. “I wake up every morning and I look in the mirror, and I see an African American man whose life has been shaped in large part by race. And my parents — my father is Jamaican, my mother is Swiss — they came to this country as new Americans for greater opportunities and a better way of life. They encountered a significant amount of racism as an interracial couple on Long Island in New York.”
Brown said his parents did not shield their family from that racism.
“It’s a reality that is experienced by all biracial children of color in the country that we live in today,” Brown said.
When asked by a Washington Post reporter earlier this year to share examples of that racism, Brown declined, saying that such experiences are nothing special.
“We all have them,” he said.
John Wagner contributed to this report.