Guffrie Smith, right, at the podium, commends the advocates for the Prince Frederick community center.

Prince Frederick, MD – Responding to the clamor for a local community center and the desire to honor a local resident who played a significant role in the Civil Rights Movement were issues that all came to an intersection in the town of Prince Frederick. Add to that a nearly 40-year-old building that needed to be repurposed and you now have the Harriet Elizabeth Brown Community Center.

A ceremony to formally reopen the building on Dares Beach Road as a community center was held March 1 and presided over by the Calvert County Commissioners.

Last year the board voted to purchase the 14,000-square-foot, one-story building from Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative for $2.6 million. Additional funds were allocated so that the county government’s Department of General Services could retrofit the structure.

The long-range goal is to use the building for local government activities with an aim to building a larger community center in another location. That center would also bear Brown’s name, who in 1937 challenged the unequal pay system Calvert County Public Schools used for African-American and white teachers. Brown, a school teacher, had enlisted the services of NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall to handle the case, which was settled two days after Christmas that year. The Calvert County Board of Education agreed to pay African-American and white teachers equally, a policy that quickly earned the support of then-Maryland Governor Harry Nice. The Maryland Teachers Pay Equalization Law was passed two years later. Marshall went on to become the U.S. Supreme Court’s first African-American justice.

Brown lived well past 100, passing away New Year’s Day 2009. Members of Brown’s family came from Virginia for the dedication ceremony. A ceremonial unveiling of a sign designating the building as the Harriet Elizabeth Brown Community Center was done amid cheers.

“We just love seeing that sign out there,” said Sherman Brown, Harriet Brown’s second cousin.

“This didn’t happen overnight,” said Commissioner Pat Nutter [R – District 2], who noted several groups, including the Calvert Collaborative for Children and Youth, lobbied the board for a community center in the central portion of the county. “This is the start, folks.”

It was the Harriet Elizabeth Brown Commemoration Task Force, established by the Maryland General Assembly that urged the commissioners to name the center after the iconic educator. “It took them one minute to make that vote,” said Nutter.

In a task force press release, Margaret Dunkle, the group’s chair, stated there are two other recommendations on the table—dedicating a section of Route 2 in Brown’s honor and commissioning a portrait of her to hang in the county courthouse.

Guffrie M Smith Jr., a Calvert resident with many distinctions—he is currently president of the Maryland State Board of Education—led the charge to establish a place in Prince Frederick for youth to gather for recreation. He told the ceremony attendees that identifying even a temporary location such as the Dares Beach Road building took about six years to accomplish. Noting that building a permanent location is still the long-range plan, he declared, “hopefully it won’t take us another six years.”

Contact Marty Madden at marty.madden@thebaynet.com