Tuesday, May 10, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland lawmakers, civil rights leaders and the governor celebrated yesterday what likely will be remembered as a milestone in the state’s struggle for recognition of its black heroes — the addition of Thurgood Marshall’s name to the moniker of Maryland’s major airport.

Standing outside the state capital, just a few feet away from a statue of the first black justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. signed into law legislation to decree the airport’s new name. The new name becomes official Oct. 1.

Signs inside the Linthicum airport will read: Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. Transportation department officials say highway signs could be replaced as early as next summer.

“Our purpose is to honor a great mind who did the most to end legal segregation in America,” said Delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr., a Baptist minister from Baltimore County and a native of Jackson, Miss., who introduced the bill and doggedly lobbied for it throughout the General Assembly’s 90-day session.

As proposed, Mr. Burns’ bill would have put Justice Marshall’s name first — making the new title Thurgood Marshall Baltimore-Washington International. He compromised after Senate leaders said they didn’t want to detract from efforts to market the airport as a regional entity.

The complex opened in 1950 and was called Friendship Airport until it was renamed Baltimore-Washington International in 1973.

Before rising to the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Marshall worked as a civil rights attorney and successfully argued the Brown v. Board of Education lawsuit that resulted in the nation’s highest court declaring that school segregation was unconstitutional. He also was a federal judge and solicitor general of the United States.

A native of Baltimore, he was denied admission to the University of Maryland because he was black and went to Howard University instead.

Many of yesterday’s ceremonial remarks were aimed at the clusters of schoolchildren gathered outside the State House.

Giving Justice Marshall the prominent honor is a long-term reminder of the civil rights struggle in Maryland and beyond, said Dorothy Height, a civil rights activist.

“Today we have opened doors, and many of our younger generations don’t know how they got opened,” said Miss Height, 93, from in front of the Marshall statue. “It is good for us to have that which is symbolic — the statue and the name of this airport, because it means generations yet to come will get to know about Thurgood Marshall.”

Justice Marshall also is honored by a statue outside the federal courthouse in Baltimore.

A last-minute change to the bill requires the three-member Board of Public Works to approve the renaming. Mr. Burns says he’s secured the votes.

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