Growing up, I was fortunate to live in a household that was not only politically active but also engaged in social responsibilities.
My father, Robert Kittleman, represented Howard County for 22 years as a state delegate and a state senator. But if he were alive today, I believe he’d say that his proudest moments came when he served in the Howard County Chapter of the NAACP as chair of the education committee during the fight against segregated schools and, later, as its president. To this day, my father is the only white person to be president of the Howard County NAACP. Dad was committed to equality and fairness, qualities that he passed along to his children.
I remember many evenings when the discussion around the kitchen table turned to ending school segregation, making public accommodations available to everyone, and creating a more equal society. Many of those gatherings included local civil rights leaders such as Harriet Tubman School Principal Elhart Flurry, Leola Dorsey and countless other supporters who were determined to bring equality to our county.
My father would talk about going to local restaurants with Leola Dorsey and other civil rights leaders and would be told that his friends would not be served due to the color of their skin. Then, they would obtain a court order requiring the restaurant to serve them. My father told me that the owner of one of the restaurants, after reading the court order, said, “This order may say that we need to serve you, but it doesn’t say that I have to be here when you are served.” The restaurant owner then walked out the door and did not return until my father and his friends had been served and left the building.
For an impressionable youngster such as myself, this was an education of a lifetime. I was fortunate to learn first-hand of the struggles faced by all Blacks in the county. Those stories weren’t easy to hear, but they needed to be heard and shaped how I saw our county.
I remembered meeting those giants of Howard County’s fight for civil rights and I was blessed to be a witness to history. I hold those times near to my heart and at the forefront of what drives me in life.
That’s why my administration worked to preserve the Harriet Tubman School, the county’s last segregated high school. After more than three decades wasting away as a storage facility, the building will now be an educational and cultural center, a place where history can be preserved. It’s why I also worked with former Councilperson Jon Weinstein (D) to remove a Confederate monument from county property, relocating it to a museum where it could be viewed in its historical context.
I am proud that our administration had one of the most inclusive and diverse leadership teams ever assembled by a Howard County executive. Our team included the first African American Fire Chief, John Butler, and the first African American woman to be the Director of the Department of Community Resources and Services, Jackie Scott. Our administration also increased the cultural sensitivity training for our police officers and other county employees.
As we begin Black History Month, I hope you take the time to learn more about the extraordinary impact African Americans have had on our heritage in Howard County. And I hope as you learn more, you’ll be inspired, as I have been, to continue to work toward making our county a more welcoming, accepting and inviting community for all of us to live, work, learn and play.