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Charles County remembers Civil Rights Era victim

Charles County Commissioner Ken Robinson and Artist Vicki Marckel present portrait to Hattie Carroll's family
From left to right, Charles County Commissioner Ken Robinson, artist Vicki Marckel and Bridget Carroll, after Marckel's portrait of Hattie Carroll is unveiled.

La Plata, MD  - To the small gathering outside the Charles County Governmental Center in La Plata, Commissioner Ken Robinson [D – District 1] declared, “you cannot right a wrong committed over 50 years ago but you can remember.” The brief ceremony Saturday morning, Oct. 28 was to remember a woman with an odd connection to Charles County. Hattie Carroll, 51, the mother of 11 children, died hours after being severely beaten at a hotel in Baltimore in February of 1963. Her assailant, William Zantzinger, 24 of Charles County, was charged with manslaughter and was sentenced to six months in jail. Zantzinger, who came from a wealthy family and was able to afford a team of lawyers to defend him in court, died in 2009.

Robinson told TheBayNet.com that while researching Hattie Carroll—whose death was the subject of a Bob Dylan song written shortly after the Civil Rights movement’s March on Washington—he found an article about the incident on the web site “Welcome to Baltimore, Hon!” In the readers’ comments section there was a missive written by Bridget Carroll, who was reacting to a negative comment about the article.

“I make sure people know that Hattie Carroll was my grandmother. Elegant woman she was and to think I served my country fighting two wars for the ignorant people in our society. To the negative comments made imagine if it was your grandmother.”

Robinson felt it was appropriate that the Charles County leadership reach out the family with a meaningful gesture. “He found me through my daughter’s Facebook page,” said Bridget Carroll.

“We wanted to know if they approved of this,” said Robinson, who added, “Charles County’s role in this incident is despicable.”

Once he had assurances that the family was receptive to having a memorial in Charles County, Robinson began to implement the plan.

During their Sept. 19 meeting the Charles County Commissioners voted 3-to-2 to name a pedestrian walkway at the government building in Hattie Carroll’s honor. In addition to Robinson, the two board members who voted in favor of the memorial—Commissioners’ President Peter Murphy [D] and Commissioners’ Vice President Amanda Stewart [D – District 3]—along with Delegate C.T. Wilson [D – District 28] were in attendance at the ceremony.

“She was a hard-working person,” said granddaughter Donna Walters, who added she was very young when her grandmother died. Of Hattie Carroll’s family, Walters said, “they feel the pain from the way she was taken away.”

Robinson, who played a portion of Dylan’s song during his brief remarks, noted that the celebrated singer/songwriter continues to perform the song “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” at concerts.

“It’s on each of us to do something,” said Wilson, who called the ceremony “a small gathering for a very big, august occasion.”

During a moment of silence, nearby Grace Episcopal Church began tolling its bells. A street sign reading “Hattie Carroll Way” and a conventional wooden sign that reads "Hattie Carroll Memorial Walkway" mark the now-dedicated path. Vicki Marckel, an art teacher at Henry E. Lackey High School, unveiled a portrait of Hattie Carroll. Marckel told TheBayNet.com that the rendering—oils on linen—took her two weeks to complete. After hanging in the government building lobby for a month, the portrait will be given to Hattie Carroll’s family.

Wilson expressed confidence that the sign will prompt curiosity from Charles County’s youth who might have occasion to visit the local government complex. That curiosity will impel them to use Google to learn more about Hattie Carroll’s sad story and its role in the national struggle for civil rights.

“This is going to live on,” said Wilson.

Contact Marty Madden at marty.madden@thebaynet.com

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