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Baltimore Civil Rights Protest Site May Be Torn Down

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Reads Drug Store

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BALTIMORE (WJZ) — It was the first successful student sit-in to end segregation and it happened at a drug store right here in Baltimore.

A participant in that protest told Suzanne Collins the building should not be torn down.

The developer let WJZ into the old Read’s Drug Store building on Howard Street Monday to show the condition of the interior.  In 1955, a group of Morgan students staged a sit-in that helped bring about desegregation.  After anger about demolition of such a historic site, the developer has just agreed to leave two exterior walls standing.

“What we have here is not only an opportunity to honor the history but also invest in the future, and so as we redevelop this block and create jobs, it will be something of great value for the entire city and neighborhood,” said John Thompson, Dawson Company.

The sit-in took place inside the drugstore.  There’s now no lunch counter left, only a brick wall and some debris.

Doctor Helena Hicks participated in that sit-in and she envisions a large historical display running the length of the former lunch counter, but that can’t happen if the developer breaks out the wall to make enough space for a new tenant.

“It really reeks of racism.  No other city in the country would ever accept two walls and a plaque as a symbol of the great civil rights movement,” Hicks said.

At a meeting Tuesday, the Maryland Historical Trust Board decided the compromise by the developer still violates a state/city preservation agreement but the mayor believes the concession is a good one.

“I think one of the best ways to honor our history is to tell the story in a vibrant development, someplace where there’s going to be foot traffic and people will be there,” said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

There are still several steps in this process by the planning board and the historical commission. No one is talking about legal action at this point.

The Morgan student protest at Read’s Drug Store led to the company agreeing to serve blacks at all of its Baltimore area lunch counters.

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