Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 23, 2024

Exposing discrimination in Baltimore in the early '60s




The Barn, pictured in 1965, was once the office space for The News-Letter.

During our senior year as undergraduates at Hopkins from 1959 to 1960, my News-Letter co-editor Stanley Handmaker and I, as well as our entire staff, did our best to call attention to several "major" issues of the day as we saw it. 

To protest the ineptitude and inaction of our current Student Council, we ran a handsome llama named Roger from the adjacent Baltimore Zoo as a candidate for the incoming Student Council, together with photos and a description of how Roger, if elected, would do a better job of resolving some pressing issues facing the Council than any student candidates. Roger actually garnered a lot of votes!

The major issue we addressed during that memorable year, however, was to identify and expose the names of as many restaurants as we could that discriminated by not serving Black and other minority students in their establishments. Members of our News-Letter staff spent considerable time visiting many of the restaurants in the neighborhoods around our campus. A white staff member in the company of at least one Black or Brown student (we didn't have that many in those days) would enter each restaurant, sit down at a table, booth or counter and try to order a meal, then see what happened. We were surprised at how many local restaurants that depended largely on the patronage of Hopkins students and staff refused to serve us and asked us to leave (which of course we did, peacefully). 

I don't recall any restaurant that we visited having a sign warning about their discrimination policy. The biggest shock to us was discovering that one of the most notable and popular restaurants near campus, the Blue Jay restaurant, was among many that wouldn’t serve minority students. 

When we published the results of our survey by printing the names of every restaurant we had visited, citing those that discriminated as well as those that didn't, it caused a sensation and was carried by the local Baltimore newspapers. Sadly, a few nights after these revelations were published, a fire that started in the kitchen of the Blue Jay restaurant demolished that restaurant, fortunately without any injuries or lives lost. Rumors later circulated that the fire was started by Black cooks who worked at the Blue Jay, though this was never verified, to my knowledge. But a number of nearby restaurants did end their discriminatory policies soon thereafter.

Several weeks after all this happened, we gathered with our staff, as we did every Tuesday evening, putting together our next issue at The Barn. A fellow student came running in to tell us that there was a burning wooden cross just up the slope from where The Barn is located. We ran up to see that this was indeed true. Unfortunately, we weren't surprised.

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