Baltimore Back-Sliding


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



In Baltimore, class sizes are larger than in other counties. That reality is viewed as a factor

 in lower test scores in Baltimore than in surrounding counties and other counties.  These lack

of resources result in a higher dropout rate



Baltimore, Back-Sliding, & Budgets

An Interview with Fred D. Mason

President Maryland State and District of Columbia, AFL-CIO

By Rudolph Lewis


Rudy: We are both proud Virginians, though that state still has a host of historical, social, and political problems. We were both also part of that continual migration to great urban centers like Baltimore and subsequently we have been both long-time residents of Baltimore, since the mid-1960s. How would you describe B’more?

Fred: Typically, broadly, and overwhelmingly, Baltimore is a working class town, with all that goes along with that in today‘s world: diminishing from an industrial-based working class to one based in a service economy. It is also fairly segregated along racial and income lines, with a diminishing middle-class.

Rudy: What has kept you in Baltimore all these years rather than some other town or city?

Fred: There has always been the promise of progress, socially, economically, and politically, number one. Of course, particularly from an African-American and working-class perspective, that promise of progress has not yet been fully realized.  But I’ve also established a family and roots here. Many of my friends are here in Baltimore. So I’ve made my life and struggle here. 

Rudy: It seems to me that Baltimore has numerous problems, especially from an African-American and working class perspective, and these problems – economic, social, and political—may be getting seriously worse. Am I off the track in my view?

Fred: Back in the mid-1960s, Baltimore like many urban centers built around a large industrial base had a majority African-American population. This was also a time when African-Americans nationwide were seeking further to define themselves as a people, acting on their aspirations to play a more determining role in the affairs of government, the economy and their lives.

These aspirations got played out in urban areas—in the realm of established politics, not so much in the economic sphere. We have a situation in which there has been an increase in black elected officials in Baltimore and from Baltimore at the state level. But the economic base of the city was already beginning to decline, with the demise of good paying, family-sustaining jobs.


So there are these structural problems, which contribute to the type of problems you have suggested. In 1955 (or 1957), the Maryland state legislature passed legislation prohibiting Baltimore from merging with or incorporating with its surrounding counties. So it has an infrastructure older than its surrounding counties. So merger or incorporation might have been a solution to dilute or address some of its economic and tax problems, as population and economic development expanded away from the urban core. But that route had been cut off by state legislation.

With the declining economic industrial base, many of Baltimore’s residents were beginning to find themselves out of jobs. Huge industries stop expanding and actually began to decrease, for instance, the textile industry, followed shortly thereafter by a severe decline and the near elimination of steel production, electrical components production, and automobile production.  

What we ended up with was a City with a rapidly eroding tax base coupled with and increasing demand for services. Many of the families that acquired the financial means, by working in the higher paying industrial jobs, actually began to leave the city. Along with their exit went much of the tax base that provided needed revenue for the City to operate.  Not only was the City unable to make qualitative improvements in the living situation of citizens, Baltimore also lacked the resources to make considerable repairs to its infrastructure. 

Rudy: But Baltimore like other urban centers has received state and federal dollars—you know, Community Action Agency, Model Cities, etc.—money for housing, job training, education, and welfare. Haven’t those efforts relieved some of these problems that were generated by these structural changes or Baltimore’s inability to adapt meaningfully to these changes?

Fred: Yes, if by relief you mean—slowing or masking a mass decline. That’s certainly true. But the relief has only nibbled at the edges. With education, for example, the state has contributed disproportionately to Baltimore’s educational system. And this is a fact that has not been lost on the surrounding counties, as all of the counties engage in a struggle for limited state resources.


Rudy: I am not sure I understand how these resources can be disproportionate. In any event, what has been the impact?

Fred:  The state constitution has a mandate to do two things: 1) balance the budget and 2) provide a system of public education.  The way it provides education involves shared responsibilities with the twenty-three (23) counties and Baltimore City. Baltimore City receives over 70 percent of the funding for school from State and Federal sources.  A whooping 53 percent of the City’s total revenue comes from State and Federal funding, approximately $1.2 billion of a $2 billion budget. The counties that have rich tax bases, like Montgomery and Howard counties, are in a better situation to contribute to their own educational systems. But if Baltimore City is not in a situation for providing for new buildings or new teachers, it usually has to go without them because of the lack of additional state funds to augment its declining tax base.

In Baltimore, class sizes are larger than in other counties. That reality is viewed as a factor in lower test scores in Baltimore than in surrounding counties and other counties.  These lack of resources result in a higher dropout rate – statewide, when looking at people over the age of 18 and out of school, 21% of the population don’t have a high school diploma; in Baltimore, 34% over 18 are without a high school diploma.

Rudy: So there’s nothing that can be done about these disastrous political and legislative failings? In Baltimore City, the city council, the last I checked, in numbers, at least, is majority black. We have quite a number of blacks in Annapolis in the legislature. Can’t they make a difference?

Fred: Can they? Could they make a difference? They could. It ends up being a question of governance, which goes to the question of a jurisdiction’s taxpayer’s money. Most of that comes from various taxes, including licensing, sales, and income tax. The rest is made up by grants and allocations from the state and federal government.

Annually, Baltimore City has a couple billion dollars to work with—to provide services for a city of over 650,000 people. The per resident cost of running government in Baltimore City is higher than the other four large political jurisdictions,  $3,472 compared to $2,171 in Anne Arundel, $2172 in Baltimore County, $3117 in Montgomery, and $2567 in Prince George’s.


In the current governing scenario, the dominant economic theory is that if Business does well, it will trickle down to the cities and thus to residents and taxpayers. One of the major economic investments of the City has been the Inner Harbor. But there is no hard economic data that the Inner Harbor has led to good quality family life or family sustaining jobs for the mass of its citizens, or the workers in and around the Inner Harbor.

Nor is it clear whether the Inner Harbor has enlarged the City’s tax base. As a case in point, one could look at the $36.6 million given to the Marriott Corporation by way of tax incentives to build a hotel downtown. The project created about 650 jobs. Relative to the subsidy, that’s over $56,000 per job, yet the jobs pay on average only $20,000 per employee.  At that income level, a family of four would still qualify for food stamps, State provided health insurance for their children and the federal earned income tax credit. 

The $20,000 average, by the way, includes hourly and salaried employees, and statistics that most housekeepers and janitors are not earning $20,000 a year.  So an interesting question to look at, again, is whether the city schools or housing or per capita income has improved with the development of the Inner Harbor.

Rudy: So, in short, the problems are too overwhelming for the local black politicians and those in Annapolis to make a difference for those who most need help?

Fred: It is clear they have an immense task before them. Job growth in the state as a whole has not occurred in Baltimore City. So we have a situation such that Baltimore has an unemployment rate that is twice as high as the State’s average. It is actually higher than it was in 1995. Yet legislators have been unable to develop or collaborate on a jobs program to satisfy the challenges confronting Baltimore City’s population. In the competition for state resources, the counties with a richer economic base have more to bring to the table.  

Rudy: What are the black education and black unemployment figures for Baltimore, approximately?  

Fred: Let me answer that question by relating it to wealth, because I think that that is why education and having a job are important elements. Looking at some national statistics, which I believe are applicable to Baltimore City—in 1998, the median wealth for blacks was $10,000 compared to $81,700 for whites; median household income for blacks was $25,351 compared to $40,912 for whites. 

I cite this because Baltimore City is at least 65% black. I suggest that good government has to govern from the perspective of this objective reality.  That should be the litmus test for good governance.  Now back to your specific question:  Some studies indicate that half of the kids that entered the 9th grade four years ago will not graduate from Baltimore this year.   When looking at 12th graders and their drop out rate statewide, 3.9% will drop out, while for Baltimore City 10.4% will drop out.  That is higher than any other jurisdiction in the State. Compare this with Montgomery County and Howard County which have rates of 1.7%.

Statewide, unemployment is at 4%; in Baltimore City, 8.3%.  In the state of Maryland, the size of the workforce has increased; relative to the rest of the country Maryland has low unemployment, lower than the national. When you break the figures out by certain groups, we see a more dreadful situation, for instance, estimates are that for black males between 18 and 30, unemployment is over 40%. 

Rudy: So, I suppose, this situation of high drop out rates and high unemployment feed into what or where the city has placed its emphasis for the last ten years, namely, crime prevention?

Fred:  Yeah. But I am not sure what the City’s crime policy, in practical application, is one of prevention. Its policies do not focus directly on the source of crimes. What they do does not work because their activities do not address basic problems, such as those cited earlier. Unless by a stretch of the imagination, one thinks that by filling up the detention centers and jails with black kids one can ease overcrowding of schools or lower the unemployment rate. That kind of policy or action does not work at all. It only exacerbates the situation.  

What ends up happening is that of the approximately 32,000 people locked up nearly half will be released in any given year.  And 65% of those released (8,000 of 15,000) in Maryland return or come to Baltimore City, which already has high unemployment. Two-thirds of that 8,000 don’t have high school diplomas and they have at least two kids.  No high school diploma, a record and two kids—go figure.

Rudy: So what happens to these people?


Fred: They go back to jail. Their kids are likely to become dropouts—to be at risk. In recent years, there have been proclamations and headlines in the media with respect to public safety—that the number of crimes overall appear to be going down. But there are those who question whether they are factual or whether they are the result of a new way of reporting crime. Homicides per year seem to have stabilized around nearly 300, despite all the police activity that has been generated. 


The Baltimore City homicide rates are horrible, particularly when compared to other jurisdictions; but equally horrible are the infant mortality rates when compared to the State’s average. Statewide for every 1000 live births 8.3% will die as infants compared to 12.6% for Baltimore City.  I just might throw in, that Statewide 9.5% of the people live in poverty, while in Baltimore City 23.7% of the people live in poverty. 

And for good measure let me just cite population density numbers that, I believe, also play a part. Overall, the State has about 506 people per square mile. Baltimore City has 7078 people per square mile, compared with the next highest Montgomery County with a density of 1726. That’s a lot of people—23% of them live in poverty, living on top of one another.

Rudy: Our present Mayor O’Malley basically won office and came into office on the issue of crime. He convinced Baltimore that he had the right approach to deal with it, bringing in experts from New York. In much of his efforts as mayor, he has talked mostly on dealing effectively with Baltimore’s crime problem. Though the crime problem has not been solved and in ways we are worse off than when he became mayor, O’Malley still, it seems, remains popular. People seem to think that they are much safer with him in office. How do you explain such an odd paradox? Is public safety a confidence game?

Fred: Certainly there are polls that suggest the mayor’s popularity. There are polls also that suggest most Americans feel safer with George Bush in office. Also polls suggest the world is a safer place since the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq have been overthrown. But ten years ago, we did not have to experience daily security coding rates of yellow and orange and so forth as a measure of threats to my safety. Code orange does make you not want to get on an airplane.  

Rudy: But shouldn’t we have sounder ways of judging officeholders than polls, which are so easily manipulated by pollsters, newspapers editors, talking heads, and other political front men?

Rudy: Let’s look again at Baltimore, a city of about 650,000 residents, of which about 75% to 80% are eligible to vote. But there are only about 250,000 registered. In the last election only 153,000 voted. This raises the basic question whether or not one of the responsibilities of those who have the job of governing is to facilitate the highest level of civic participation. I think the number of voters presently registered is indicative of an administration’s interest in civic participation. There are about 340,000 people who could be registered. Should not the “democratic” participation of the governed be a sounder measure than polls?

One wonders, at times, whether officeholders are really concerned about the demographic realities of Baltimore: the racial and ethnic makeup; the graduation rates; the employability of the governed; the economics, etc. If government started out with the perspective of helping the mass of the governed, based on objective reality, we might come up with different polices and different outcomes. If the measure continues to be what is good for business, we will proceed more quickly to the bottom.

Our focus on “saving” Bethlehem Steel and General Motors did not prevent the disappearance of jobs for a large number of people, who used to have money to buy a house and send their kids to college. These jobs have been replaced with jobs in which people have to work more than one job just to have enough money to get back to work the next day.

Rudy: It seems as if we are on a treadmill that expends a lot of energy but the mass does not get very far. What then is to be done?

Fred: The present course or direction or plan for Baltimore City was laid out and developed largely by the Greater Baltimore Committee and the President’s Round Table. These are corporate leaders, for the most part in Baltimore City, the leaders of business. It used to be said, “What is good for GM is good for the country.” So it is not surprising the kind of proposals and governing recommendations that emanate from such groups.

All of the workforce development programs of the past, like CETA, Manpower, JPTA, or like the WPA of the 30s, the approaches have asked the question, “What is good for business first – what is profitable, what keeps them viable and competitive in the market place—they have to offer a return for investment. When it comes to workers, on the other hand, the premise is that they should be happy just to have a job, or any kind of job. Workforce schemes that reward Business but do not allow workers to be self-sustaining, simply, should not be tolerated and, in any case, should not be supported by government.

Rudy: All this planning on the local, state, and national levels seem to be blind, crazy, cynical, or worse, down right deceptive. How do governments or politicians get away with this type of governance?

Fred: One of the responsibilities of government must be the maximum involvement of the population (the people) in the governing process.  Again, this must become the litmus test for good government.

Rudy: But don’t these politicians and the governments get away with these ineffective policies and programs by cynically collaborating with Corporate America for their narrow interests? Isn’t it also the case that the middle classes and corporate money keep these ineffective people in office.  

Fred:  Corporate America outspends organized Labor 11 or 12 to 1 in the electoral process. So the cost of getting into office becomes a very expensive proposition. On the local level—for a city council seat—it costs, for a competitive City Council or State Delegate race somewhere around $75,000. For a citywide race the number becomes more staggering.  Sheila Dixon is running for re-election as President of the Baltimore City Council and she just had a fundraiser in which she raised over $400,000. Mayor O’Malley raised over a million dollars. This is in a City where the median household income is around $31,000 per year.


Rudy: I understand Bush has raised so much hard money, he doesn’t know how to spend it.

Fred: Yes, he has raised more money than God. So you can buy an office. It all creates a dynamic in which Mr. and Mrs. Citizen are greatly challenged to play an effective role in governance. Obviously, there needs to be real finance campaign reforms. Who knows their city councilperson? Does he/she know your views on anything? Do you have any real opportunity to get him/her to know your position on anything?

It is not as if these politicians come from citizen-accessible clubs. I bet that—I have no way of proving it—in what is called a political club, there are probably less than a dozen people. The citizens are not in the process. The poor and the unemployed don’t have a lot of money to contribute to political campaigns. Most of the dollars —11 out of 12— come from businesses.

Organized Labor is talking about putting up $45 million to elect a president. Bush can raise $450 million or more, if necessary.  

Rudy: Let’s talk about Bush for a moment. How has his presidency affected the economy or the economic future of the country, of Maryland, of Baltimore. Are the increases for the military, the War, going to hurt the hopes of prosperity by the poor and the working classes? Is the tax cut going to do anything of real value for the poor and the working classes?

Fred: A million more workers have become unemployed for every year of his presidency. No, the tax cut will do nothing to resolve the problem of employment and wages. The bottom fifth will realize nothing. People earning $30,000 or more might get a couple of hundred. It is the ones in the higher income brackets who will get the greatest benefits from these cuts.

Rudy: So what’s going to be the outcome of the war on Iraq?  It is certain the oil will be denationalized and that whatever future government developed will have much less of a role in production and the amount of wealth received by the country.

Fred: There’s lots of money to be made in the rebuilding. So companies that have the resources to help rebuild Afghanistan and Iraq will do well. It is obviously uncertain how long we will have to keep the military in Iraq to assure stability, maybe ten years, maybe more. However long, you can be assured that American companies will administer the oil fields, and share greatly in the profits that will be generated.  I don’t really expect the cost of gasoline to go down.  And if it does, we can look for additional taxes on it at the State level.

Rudy: In this tax cut, they restored money for the states. Will states be better off by the tax cut?

Fred: The states and cities have to have national security stuff in place. Baltimore City has had to spend tens of millions for this program. The federal government mandated these security measures. But without federal funds coming in, it becomes a tricky kind of thing, because State and local governments have to look for revenue from other sources.

If you look at workforce investment dollars that used to come to local jurisdictions in the early 90s—block grants that go to the states, they no longer come at the same rate, which is part of the problem. Including Maryland, 47 of the states had budget deficits, which was largely the result of less money coming in from the federal government.

More money has been going into the Department of Defense and less money has been going into the Department of Health or the Department of Education. Maryland is required by its constitution to provide for education. They have to make up the difference.

Bush talked about “Leave No Child Behind”—a program for early child development education, a program mandated by the federal government. Federal money has not materialized because of deficit spending. When Clinton left office, the country (the federal government) had a surplus of trillions. Bush has given all that back to business while increasing defense spending.

The federal budget now has gone to trillions in the red. So certain problems are going to go neglected. This safety frenzy is going to require trillions. The problems in Afghanistan and Iraq are going to drain off and demand more and more money from the national treasury. A balanced budget used to be the call words for the Republicans; now it is deficit spending, which for them now is a good thing.

Rudy:  What about 2004, on the city and national levels—what are the prospects for the progressive forces getting their interests put on the front burner? Do you think Bush is going to win?

Fred: If you rely on polls and if the election was held today, Bush would win. Progressives will be disappointed, because to the extent that one believes election outcomes are determined by spending large sums of money, for they will not be able to raise enough money. Candidates who present themselves as ones to carry out Corporate America interests—lower taxes for the rich and support policies for a low-wage economy—they will win. That’s the situation we are in, given the current political situation.

Again, the responsibility remains of those governing to involve the governed in the governing process. Presently, only 20% to 25% participate in the process. In their four or five years to govern, their primary focus should be to involve voters or potential voters in the process. When that doesn’t happen, so much for democracy.

Rudy: Will you be involved in voter registration for the 2004 elections?

Fred:  We have 54% of union members registered to vote. That is a horrible number. Organized Labor and its constituency groups—Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), the A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI), Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), Pride at Work (PAW),  Asian, Pacific Island American Labor Alliance (LACLA),  and Latin American Council for Labor Advancement (LACLA)—these organizations are dedicated to information, voter registration and vote turnout of their constituents, largely involved in non-partisan issue education and turnout.

Rudy: We have tried to cover a lot of territory and we have touched on a number of subjects. I am afraid we have to bring this very informative interview to a close. Maybe we can do this again and then we can go into more depth on a more limited topic.

posted 28 June 2003

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Fred D. Mason, his office in Annapolis, is the president of the Maryland State and District of Columbia, AFL-CIO, sometimes referred to as the “State Fed.” Mr. Mason and the State Fed represent the legislative and political interests of 350,000 union members and retirees. Unofficially, the state federation of unions represent all 3.5 million workers in the state. Most workers have no other organization that represents their interests in the halls of government.  Mr. Mason and the State Fed work with 400 local labor unions and five labor councils to evaluate the legislative agenda, coordinate support from labor leaders and workers, and lobby lawmakers for those bills that work for labor and the general public.

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Roy Wilkins and Spiro Agnew in Annapolis  /  Agnew Speaks to Black Baltimore Leaders 1968

The End of Black Rage? Class and Delusion in Black America (Jared Ball)

The Black Generation Gap (Ellis Cose)  / Walter Hall Lively   Forty Years of Determined Struggle 

Putting Baltimore’s People First  Dominance of Johns Hopkins   A Brief Economic History of Modern Baltimore

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The End of Anger

A New Generation’s Take on Race and Rage

By Ellis Cose

From a venerated and bestselling voice on American life comes a contemporary look at the decline of black rage; the demise of white guilt; and the intergenerational shifts in how blacks and whites view, and interact with, each other. In the heady aftermath of President Obama’s election, conventional wisdom suggested that the bitter, angry, and destructive elements of discrimination were ebbing at last and America was becoming a postracial nation. . . . Weaving material from myriad interviews as well as two large and ambitious surveys that he conducted—one of black Harvard MBAs and the other of graduates of A Better Chance, a program offering elite educational opportunities to thousands of young people of color since 1963—Cose offers an invaluable portrait of contemporary America that attempts to make sense of what a people do when the dream, for some, is finally within reach as one historical era ends and another begins.—Ecco, 2011

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Obama and Black Americans: the Paradox of Hope—By Gary Younge—But for all the ways black America has felt better about itself and looked better to others, it has not actually fared better. In fact, it has been doing worse. The economic gap between black and white has grown since Obama took power. Under his tenure black unemployment, poverty and foreclosures are at their highest levels for at least a decade.

Millions of black kids may well aspire to the presidency now that a black man is in the White House. But such a trajectory is less likely for them now than it was under Bush. Herein lies what is at best a paradox and at worst a contradiction within Obama’s core base of support. The very group most likely to support him—black Americans—is the same group that is doing worse under him.—TheNation

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Here lies Jim Crow: Civil rights in Maryland

 By C. Fraser Smith

Though he lived throughout much of the South—and even worked his way into parts of the North for a time—Jim Crow was conceived and buried in Maryland. From Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney’s infamous decision in the Dred Scott case to Thurgood Marshall’s eloquent and effective work on Brown v. Board of Education, the battle for black equality is very much the story of Free State women and men. Here, Baltimore Sun columnist C. Fraser Smith recounts that tale through the stories, words, and deeds of famous, infamous, and little-known Marylanders. He traces the roots of Jim Crow laws from Dred Scott to Plessy v. Ferguson and describes the parallel and opposite early efforts of those who struggled to establish freedom and basic rights for African Americans.

Following the historical trail of evidence, Smith relates latter-day examples of Maryland residents who trod those same steps, from the thrice-failed attempt to deny black people the vote in the early twentieth century to nascent demonstrations for open access to lunch counters, movie theaters, stores, golf courses, and other public and private institutions—struggles that occurred decades before the now-celebrated historical figures strode onto the national civil rights scene. Smith’s lively account includes the grand themes and the state’s major players in the movement—Frederick Douglass, Harriett Tubman, Thurgood Marshall, and Lillie May Jackson, among others.—and also tells the story of the struggle via several of Maryland’s important but relatively unknown men and women—such as Gloria Richardson, John Prentiss Poe, William L. “Little Willie” Adams, and Walter Sondheim—who prepared Jim Crow’s grave and waited for the nation to deliver the body.—Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 6 April 2010



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