Proceedings, Debates of the U.S. Congress
December 6, 2011
112th Congress, 1st Session
Issue: Vol. 157, No. 186 — Daily Edition
Entire Issue (PDF)
THE 40TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE CASE OF LOUIS R. HARPER, ET. AL. V. MAYOR AND CITY OF BALTIMORE, ET. AL.
(Extensions of Remarks - December 06, 2011)
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[Extensions of Remarks] [Pages E2184-E2185] From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov] THE 40TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE CASE OF LOUIS R. HARPER, ET. AL. V. MAYOR AND CITY OF BALTIMORE, ET. AL. ______ HON. ELIJAH E. CUMMINGS of maryland in the house of representatives Tuesday, December 6, 2011 Mr. CUMMINGS. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize the occasion of the 40th Anniversary of the case of Louis R. Harper, et. al. v. Mayor and City of Baltimore, et. al. This lawsuit, filed on December 6, 1971, to address discrimination within the Baltimore City Fire Department, BCFD, was the first federal lawsuit to combat discriminatory practices in hiring and promotion decisions in the public safety profession. The BCFD hired its first African American fire fighters on October 15, 1953, from a group of 41 men found eligible for appointment after the opportunity for them to take the entrance exam was opened in the summer of 1952. Almost 20 years later, one of those pioneering men became the architect behind the scenes of the legal action filed in 1971. Mr. Charles R. Thomas was the founding president of the Vulcan Blazers Incorporated, the Baltimore City Chapter of the International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters. Mr. Thomas approached Kenneth L. Johnson of the Johnson & Smith law firm asking if he would take on this monumental case. After hearing the facts of the case, Mr. Johnson and his law partner, Mr. Gerald A. Smith, agreed to take the case. The named plaintiff in the case was Mr. Louis R. Harper, Jr. It was his bravery and selflessness that led the team of plaintiffs, including Mr. Thomas G. Deshields, Mr. Carl E. McDonald, and Mr. Alphonso Thornton. These BCFD members put their careers at risk to demand that the BCFD treat all employees equally. This case addressed discrimination in the BCFD entrance examination and promotional practices. At the time of the lawsuit, the names of fully qualified African American candidates were marked in red by the civil service commission before being sent to the BCFD. The lawsuit also dealt with disparity in the Department's practices for disciplining African American fire fighters. Upon the filing of the case, an injunction was issued to halt promotions into 44 newly created battalion chief positions. Finally, in the spring of 1973, Baltimore City was found guilty of discrimination in the management of the BCFD. Federal District Court Judge Joseph H. Young ordered a complete revamping of the Department's entrance examination and promotional procedures. Since this lawsuit was concluded, the BCFD has appointed an African American Fire Chief and promoted several officers to all ranks as high as assistant chief. Critically, the BCFD case win was just the beginning of Mr. Johnson and Mr. Smith's mission to eradicate discrimination from the public safety profession all along the east coast. This team went on to win fire department cases in Philadelphia, PA and Richmond, VA. They also won cases for African American Baltimore City Police Officers and workers at Bethlehem Steel. As I close, I also celebrate the remarkable careers of those involved in this groundbreaking case. The named plaintiff in the case, Mr. Louis R. Harper, Jr., became the first African American to be promoted to Captain in the Baltimore City Fire Department. The other named plaintiffs all retired with the rank of Captain with the exception of Mr. Carl McDonald, who retired as Assistant Chief. Mr. Kenneth Johnson has retired from the position of Judge on Baltimore's Supreme Bench. Mr. Gerald A. Smith still practices law from his office in the Baltimore area. These men are true heroes who opened the doors of opportunity to subsequent generations. I thank them for their service to Baltimore and to our nation--and for their willingness to lead the fight against injustice. [[Page E2185]] ____________________