Sherman Howell, a Columbia resident, has been named the recipient of the NAACP Platinum Year Award. Below are his words upon accepting the award.
“As history states, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, were many children, teenagers and young adults.” In fact, Brother Freeman Hrabowski, now president of UMBC here in Maryland, talks of his days in jail. The main challenge here, of course, was insufficient … adults to be arrested to make the movement feasible, meaningful or effective. Solutions at resolving the latter [were] risky, that is, the inclusion of young people, so-called the Children’s Crusade/Children March. … However, parallel to inclusion were assurances of safety for these young people, obviously pointing to crucially needed help from the NAACP or its legal defense force — i.e., guaranteeing that young people could get out of jail, followed by adequate legal protection.
“As Clayborn Carson, director of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute at Stanford University, noted, had King failed in getting youth involvement, his “legacy wouldn’t be what it is. If he hadn’t won, there probably wouldn’t have been an “I Have a Dream” speech or a Man of the Year award or a Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. But because of the involvement of the NAACP and its legal framework, King was successful. … All of this speaks well for the NAACP, as well as for those of us who received the NAACP Platinum Year Award this past Sunday.
“Thanks again to you and the NAACP for the Award … and thanks to Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity for its support of me getting the award.”
Howell’s involvement in civil rights and community service was inspired by his family’s interest in “Tent City,” a series of civil rights voter registration events that took place in Fayette County, Tenn., from 1959 into the early 1970s. Tent City subsequently led to his leadership, at eight years of age, assisting a poor white family in educating their son.
At 17, he graduated from high school, got a full-time job, entered college and immediately began focusing on civil rights, specifically the eradication of Jim Crow laws of the Deep South.
In 1961, in a solo drive, hedrove through the entire state of Mississippi to, according to him, “test justice in America.” Highway 61, from Memphis to New Orleans, was considered by the press to be the most dangerous highway in America.
His next endeavor was the civil rights movement of the ’60s where he participated in most of what The Christian Science Monitor called “peaceful protest that bolstered Civil Rights” — marches on Washington for jobs and freedom; from Selma to Montgomery; supporting the Vietnam War opposition; for the Poor People Campaign.
Following his Vietnam War service as an academy staff instructor, and using experience from police and civil unrest of the civil rights movement, Howell accepted a three-year grant from the Washington, D.C., Police Department, helping to address community dissatisfaction with police and community relations; from there, he worked for the Peace Corp.
A disappointing moment confronted Howell and his family upon moving to Columbia in 1971. A vociferous reader, he discovered that the “Next America,” as Columbia was called, did not subscribe to the Afro-American newspaper in its library. After much contention, Marvin Thomas, director of the Howard County Library System, agreed to changing the library’s policy and subscribing to the Afro-American papers.
He served on the Oakland Mills Village Board in early 1970. As vice chair of the board, he was a leading advocate for funding of the Oakland Mills Youth Center.
Having spent more than 40 years focusing on local affordable housing, including working with policies of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Howell was selected by General Growth Properties, developer of Columbia at the time, as an expert in the development of affordable housing. He was also vice chair of the Columbia Forum, the Forum being primarily responsible for ensuring that the original promises to those who came to Columbia were kept.
He has served as vice president of the Howard County Chapter of the NAACP and is the founder of the Commitment, the chapter’s newsletter. Howell is the founder and first chairperson of the Howard County Martin Luther King, Jr., Holiday Commission and currently serves as vice president of research and agenda planning of the African American Coalition of Howard County.