[Congressional Record Volume 157, Number 186 (Tuesday, December 6, 2011)]
[Extensions of Remarks]
[Pages E2184-E2185]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]

                     AND CITY OF BALTIMORE, ET. AL.


                        HON. ELIJAH E. CUMMINGS

                              of maryland

                    in the house of representatives

                       Tuesday, December 6, 2011

  Mr. CUMMINGS. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize the occasion of 
the 40th Anniversary of the case of Louis R. Harper, et. al. v. Mayor 
and City of Baltimore, et. al. This lawsuit, filed on December 6, 1971, 
to address discrimination within the Baltimore City Fire Department, 
BCFD, was the first federal lawsuit to combat discriminatory practices 
in hiring and promotion decisions in the public safety profession.
  The BCFD hired its first African American fire fighters on October 
15, 1953, from a group of 41 men found eligible for appointment after 
the opportunity for them to take the entrance exam was opened in the 
summer of 1952. Almost 20 years later, one of those pioneering men 
became the architect behind the scenes of the legal action filed in 
  Mr. Charles R. Thomas was the founding president of the Vulcan 
Blazers Incorporated, the Baltimore City Chapter of the International 
Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters. Mr. Thomas approached 
Kenneth L. Johnson of the Johnson & Smith law firm asking if he would 
take on this monumental case. After hearing the facts of the case, Mr. 
Johnson and his law partner, Mr. Gerald A. Smith, agreed to take the 
  The named plaintiff in the case was Mr. Louis R. Harper, Jr. It was 
his bravery and selflessness that led the team of plaintiffs, including 
Mr. Thomas G. Deshields, Mr. Carl E. McDonald, and Mr. Alphonso 
Thornton. These BCFD members put their careers at risk to demand that 
the BCFD treat all employees equally.
  This case addressed discrimination in the BCFD entrance examination 
and promotional practices. At the time of the lawsuit, the names of 
fully qualified African American candidates were marked in red by the 
civil service commission before being sent to the BCFD. The lawsuit 
also dealt with disparity in the Department's practices for 
disciplining African American fire fighters.
  Upon the filing of the case, an injunction was issued to halt 
promotions into 44 newly created battalion chief positions. Finally, in 
the spring of 1973, Baltimore City was found guilty of discrimination 
in the management of the BCFD. Federal District Court Judge Joseph H. 
Young ordered a complete revamping of the Department's entrance 
examination and promotional procedures.
  Since this lawsuit was concluded, the BCFD has appointed an African 
American Fire Chief and promoted several officers to all ranks as high 
as assistant chief.
  Critically, the BCFD case win was just the beginning of Mr. Johnson 
and Mr. Smith's mission to eradicate discrimination from the public 
safety profession all along the east coast. This team went on to win 
fire department cases in Philadelphia, PA and Richmond, VA. They also 
won cases for African American Baltimore City Police Officers and 
workers at Bethlehem Steel.
  As I close, I also celebrate the remarkable careers of those involved 
in this groundbreaking case.
  The named plaintiff in the case, Mr. Louis R. Harper, Jr., became the 
first African American to be promoted to Captain in the Baltimore City 
Fire Department. The other named plaintiffs all retired with the rank 
of Captain with the exception of Mr. Carl McDonald, who retired as 
Assistant Chief.
  Mr. Kenneth Johnson has retired from the position of Judge on 
Baltimore's Supreme Bench. Mr. Gerald A. Smith still practices law from 
his office in the Baltimore area.
  These men are true heroes who opened the doors of opportunity to 
subsequent generations. I thank them for their service to Baltimore and 
to our nation--and for their willingness to lead the fight against 

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