[Baltimore Sun] Remembering Morgan State students’ long fight to integrate Northwood Theatre, won this week in 1963

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This week in 1963 a matinee showing of a now-largely forgotten Disney film was the final scene of one of the Baltimore civil rights movement’s longer fought campaigns. After eight years of on and off demonstrations led by students at what is now Morgan State University, the Northwood Theatre near Morgan’s campus dropped its whites-only policy, capitulating to a feverish week of nonviolent action including religious leaders and Black and white students from other colleges that resulted in hundreds of arrests. On Feb. 22, 1963, the adventure movie “In Search of the Castaways” became the first the theater showed to Black customers.

Anti-segregation demonstrators line up outside the Northwood Theatre in Feb. 1963 as a man blocks the entrance. (William L. LaForce/Staff)

Leading up to that screening, starting on Feb. 15, hundreds of picketers marched on the theater at the by then otherwise integrated Northwood Shopping Center. They were organized by the Civic Interest Group, which was made up mostly of Morgan students and helped integrate other businesses, including the shopping center’s Hecht’s Rooftop Restaurant and Arundel Ice Cream. Police arrested more than 400 of the theater demonstrators, many of them women, on charges of trespassing or disorderly conduct. A judge set bails as large as $600 (the equivalent of almost $10,000 today). The high bails encouraged organizers to embrace jail packing as a tactic, overburdening the system.

On Feb. 20, Baltimore Mayor Philip H. Goodman announced what the movement had been working toward since many movies were still in black and white: The owner would integrate the theater, so long as the demonstrations stopped. Other Baltimore movie theaters that were still denying entry to Black people soon integrated as well.

“It took a lot longer than perhaps we would have wished,” the Rev. Douglas Sands, who was a leader of the Northwood demonstrations, told The Sun in 2013. “But because of that, it did a lot for a generation of us. We got to know each other, and there was a lot of community-building.”

Have a story idea about Baltimore or Maryland history or a question that might lead to one? Email researcher Paul McCardell at [email protected].

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