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  • Emmanuel Mehr

The March on Annapolis and the Struggle against Police Brutality, 1942

BHW 51: January 20, 2024

A slightly pink sepia-toned photograph of the Maryland State House sitting atop a hill with trees and a bell in the foreground. The base of the building is made mostly of brick.
Figure 1. “Maryland State House, State Circle, Annapolis, Anne Arundel County, MD,” c. after 1933, public domain [1].

On February 1, 1942, Baltimore City police officer Edward R. Bender shot uniformed African American soldier Private Thomas E. Broadus in the back along Pennsylvania Avenue. Bender noticed Broadus and his friends trying to hail an unlicensed taxi and confronted them, initiating a physical altercation. When Broadus attempted to leave the scene, Bender fatally shot him. This was the second time in two years that Bender fatally shot a Black person in Baltimore. [2] The city’s Black community, led by the local NAACP branch, Afro-American newspaper, and Black churches, responded by demanding action against surging police brutality. This social justice leadership trio led the struggle for the rights and safety of the Black Baltimorean community. [3] Their most powerful response and call to action was the April 24, 1942, March on Annapolis. As Baltimore civil rights leader Juanita Jackson Mitchell later recalled, this march channelled volatile community outrage about maltreatment by police into a productive and non-violent channel. [4] More than 2,000 Black Baltimoreans marched to the state capitol (Figure 1) to meet with Governor Herbert O’Conor and demand justice. [5] The group marched for a variety of causes, but recent events ensured police reform was the top priority. While the March on Annapolis led the Governor to create a “Commission to Study the Problems Affecting the Colored Population,” this commission was not impactful. [6] The most significant historical impacts of the march were indirect results of the Black Baltimorean commitment to preventing police brutality against Black people. It provided vital momentum for efforts to boost Black representation in the Baltimore City Police Department and was the impetus for a massive voter registration drive to enact police reform through policy.

The 1942 March on Annapolis was the largest scale demonstration of Baltimorean demands for police reform up to that point, yet efforts to improve Black representation in the police force began years prior. These relied on the premise that increasing African American police force presence would lead to a decrease in police maltreatment of Black people. Baltimorean activist Evelyn T. Burrell describes her involvement with “getting black policemen into the police force” as early as “somewhere about 1935-36.” She adds, “We were successful . . . and I think there were four black policemen hired at that time . . . And one of them was a woman – Miss Violet Hill Whyte, who went on to become a most outstanding policewoman.” [7] Whyte became the first Black officer in the history of the Baltimore City Police Department in December 1937. While the first Black Baltimorean hirings showed progress, racialized police brutality remained a major problem in the city. Officer Bender’s February 1942 murder of Private Broadus painfully showed that not enough was being done to address this. The Afro’s coverage of the police brutality issue made clear to Black Baltimoreans that the Broadus murder was not an isolated incident. Instead, it exemplified a crisis. The paper emphasized that ten Black people had been killed by Baltimore police officers in the preceding four years and that this was unacceptable. [8]

Amidst the public momentum for Black Baltimorean police representation resulting from the March on Annapolis, the local NAACP branch worked to develop a police training school. The Baltimore NAACP debuted this program in 1943, together with the Afro and a group known as the Maryland League of Colored Republican Voters led by Marse Callaway. [9] It provided high-quality training for prospective officers. [10] Most specifically, it prepared trainees to take the Civil Service examinations required for police service. [11] Elizabeth Murphy Moss, whose father the Afro publisher Carl J. Murphy was one of the leaders of the March on Annapolis, deems this police school one of the march’s main outcomes. [12] A major demand articulated at the march was for Black police officers to be uniformed. Before this, the only Black Baltimorean officers wore civilian clothing. Shortly after the march, police commissioner Hamilton Atkinson ordered three of the original plainclothes officers switched into uniformed roles. The visual significance of Black officers in uniform and on patrol around the city importantly demonstrated Black representation. [13] The NAACP-led police training school added sustainability to this representation by generating new trained and qualified Black Baltimorean potential police recruits.

Baltimore’s Black churches also played a significant role in this midcentury struggle against police brutality. While the NAACP trained prospective officers and the Afro worked on raising police brutality awareness, church leaders validated and spread arguments for police reform. They put their moral authority and community capital behind these calls to action. For example, Reverend E. W. White was the committee secretary for the Citizens Committee on Justice (CCJ), the main organizing body for the March on Annapolis. White’s speech at the march exemplifies the arguments against police brutality put forward by Black church leaders. He emphasized the importance of Black Baltimorean police representation and asserted that these officers needed to be fully uniformed. He then stressed the racial implications of the police brutality problem, asserting: “If there are those of our race who are inclined not to be in sympathy with upholding the law it is because they feel it is the white man’s law, made and administered by him, and that he, the black man, has no part in its protection.” He continued by emphasizing the psychology behind the issue, stating, “Our people are being taught that policemen do not move among them to protect them and to uphold the law; and, to say the least, it is producing a damning psychology which in the end must lead to disaster.” [14] By disaster he likely meant social unrest and public violence, which Juanita Jackson Mitchell argues was averted in this case only because of the effectiveness of the March on Annapolis as a vehicle for channeling social pressure. [15]

Black Baltimoreans have long recognized that police brutality is indicative of a broader pervasive social issue: the systemic racism within American society. For NAACP representatives in the mid twentieth century, the ballot was the best way to address this to improve and preserve Black Baltimorean lives. Capitalizing on the march-generated momentum for social change, the Baltimore NAACP launched a massive voter registration drive in October 1943. It deemed this the “Votes for Victory” campaign, tapping into nationalist sentiments associated with World War II. [16] The murder of uniformed soldier Private Broadus made clear the contradictions between the democratic rhetoric of the war effort and the treatment of African Americans at home in the United States. In response, the NAACP promulgated the message that “A Voteless People Is a Hopeless People.” Black churches joined in and provided largely non-partisan endorsements for democratic action. [17] The March on Annapolis was fully non-violent and focused on civic participation, with the direct goal of speaking with the Governor as informed citizens. [18] Even in the racist coverage provided by the Sun, the calm and peaceful behavior of the marchers was emphasized. [19] Thus, the march represented members of a democracy acting in accordance with their democratic rights. If their demands were not met, the implication was that they would respond through their votes. [20]

The “Votes for Victory” voter registration drive was highly successful, as evidenced by the addition of 9,000 new African American voters by spring 1944 and by election results favoring candidates who supported Black rights. The most assertive demonstration of growing Black Baltimorean voter power was the election of Theodore McKeldin as Mayor of Baltimore in May 1943, less than a month after the March on Annapolis. As historian Carroll P. Kakel III points out, “the Black vote was decisive in favor of McKeldin, who became Baltimore’s first Republican mayor since 1927. The city’s three Black wards went more than 70 percent for McKeldin.” [21] While his platform did not directly feature police brutality, his commitment to more equitable and just treatment of Black Baltimoreans was likely understood by many to extend to this issue. By presenting himself as an ally for Black Baltimore, McKeldin pragmatically recognized the newly reinforced strength of this voting bloc. [22] That his support for the Black freedom struggle was substantially politically motivated shows the immense success of the Black Baltimorean voter registration movement.

Black Baltimorean civil rights leaders, foremost among them the local NAACP, Afro-American, and Black clergy, led the 1942 March on Annapolis to rally support for social justice. The most pressing issue was the recent wave of police brutality against Black people. Leaders also recognized that this violence was indicative of systemic racism. By training Black Baltimoreans to become police officers, the NAACP worked to address this while the Afro maintained public awareness of the scope of the issue. Church leaders morally validated and promulgated the arguments behind the Black Baltimorean liberation struggle. Recognizing the vital role of democratic action in achieving social change, Black Baltimorean leaders also embarked on a gigantic voter registration campaign. Led by the NAACP, this campaign approximately doubled the number of registered African American voters in Baltimore between 1940 and 1952. [23] Black Baltimoreans then elected leaders who demonstrated commitment to protecting and advancing their rights. This included greater Black representation in the Baltimore City Police Department as well as efforts to prevent police brutality. The ineffective interracial commission appointed by Governor O’Conor in response to the March on Annapolis had a miniscule impact in comparison to the democratic efforts of Baltimorean activist leaders, who leveraged the momentum from the march to forge social change.


[1] Maryland State House, State Circle, Annapolis, Anne Arundel County, MD,” photograph (Annapolis, MD, c. after 1933), Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey,

[2] See David Taft Terry, The Struggle and the Urban South: Confronting Jim Crow in Baltimore Before the Movement (Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press, 2019), 93, Kindle edition; Carroll P. Kakel III, “Fighting Hitler and Jim Crow: Baltimore Activists, Equal Rights, and World War II, 1941-45,” Journal of Civil and Human Rights 6, no. 2 (Fall/Winter 2020): 63,; “NEGROES ASSAIL CITY POLICEMEN,” Sun (Baltimore, MD), April 25, 1942, 22,

[3] Sandy M. Shoemaker, “‘We Shall Overcome, Someday’: The Equal Rights Movement in Baltimore, 1935-1942,” Maryland Historical Magazine 89, no. 3 (Fall 1994): 267,

[4] Juanita Jackson Mitchell and Virginia Jackson Kiah, “Juanita Jackson Mitchell and Virginia Jackson Kiah interview, 1976,” by Charles Wagandt, January 10, 1976, McKeldin-Jackson Project Oral History Collection, H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Maryland Center for History and Culture (Baltimore, MD), II:24-II:25,

[5] Hayward Farrar, The Baltimore Afro-American, 1892-1950 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998), 114,; “NEGROES ASSAIL CITY POLICEMEN,” Sun, April 25, 1942, 22.

[6] Terry, The Struggle and the Urban South, 114; Lee Sartain, Borders of Equality: The NAACP and the Baltimore Civil Rights Struggle, 1914-1970 (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2013), 96, Kindle edition.

[7] Evelyn T. Burrell, “Evelyn T. Burrell interview,” by Susan Conwell, June 25, 1976, McKeldin-Jackson Project Oral History Collection, H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Maryland Center for History and Culture (Baltimore, MD), 1:3,

[8] Farrar, The Baltimore Afro-American, 113.

[9] Prudence Cumberbatch, “What ‘the Cause’ Needs Is a ‘Brainy and Energetic Woman’: A Study of Female Charismatic Leadership in Baltimore,” in Want to Start a Revolution?: Radical Women in the Black Freedom Struggle, eds. Dayo F. Gore, Jeanne Theoharis, and Komozi Woodward (New York: New York University Press, 2009), 62,

[10] Elizabeth Murphy Moss, “Elizabeth Murphy Moss interview,” by Leroy Graham, July 13, 1976, McKeldin-Jackson Project Oral History Collection, H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Maryland Center for History and Culture (Baltimore, MD), II:33,; Farrar, The Baltimore Afro-American, 112.

[11] Langston Hughes, Fight for Freedom: The Story of the NAACP (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1962), 178,

[12] Moss, “Elizabeth Murphy Moss interview,” II:33.

[13] Farrar, The Baltimore Afro-American, 113.

[14] “NEGROES ASSAIL CITY POLICEMEN,” Sun, April 25, 1942, 6.

[15] Juanita Jackson Mitchell and Virginia Jackson Kiah, “Juanita Jackson Mitchell and Virginia Jackson Kiah interview, 1976,” II:24-II:25.

[16] Terry, The Struggle and the Urban South, 108.

[17] Kakel III, “Fighting Hitler and Jim Crow,” 66.

[18] Terry, The Struggle and the Urban South, 106.

[19] “NEGROES ASSAIL CITY POLICEMEN,” Sun, April 25, 1942, 22.

[20] Cumberbatch, “What ‘the Cause’ Needs Is a ‘Brainy and Energetic Woman,’” 62.

[21] Kakel III, “Fighting Hitler and Jim Crow,” 65

[22] George H. Callcott, Maryland and America, 1940-1980 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985), 150,

[23] Callcott, Maryland and America, 150.


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