An Aberdeen, Md. home that, according to its owner, played a role in the history of the Civil Rights Movement in Harford County, is at the center of a property dispute with the city that threatened confiscation and demolition of the 84-year-old structure.
The city claimed the house is structurally unsound but Janice Grant, former president of the Harford County Chapter of the NAACP and owner of the house, insists that the city’s move is part of an ongoing effort to seize the property of African Americans.
“There are some people here who have that old mentality regarding people of color,” Grant told the AFRO. “You aren’t supposed to be as intelligent. You aren’t supposed to own anything.”
Built in 1930, the house in the 400 block of Edmund Street, has served as a meeting place for the local branch of the NAACP and once served as a place where the homeless could go for shelter and food, Grant said.
But three weeks ago, it took an order by Judge William Carr to steer away a bulldozer hat was poised to knock the structure down, on orders of the city, she said.
The house, used by Grant as a rental property since about 1990, was the target of vandals who stripped siding. flooring, drywall, plumbing and other fixtures from the structure, Grant said. She said she believes the vandalism was orchestrated by the city in order to have an excuse to demolish it.
City officials have denied Grant’s assertion and said that since demolition was averted they are working with Grant to correct housing code violations that led the city’s Unsafe Building Committee to give Grant until March to make improvements.
On May 27, Grant will present the findings of two experts to the contrary at a status hearing before a judge.
Meanwhile, Grant said, she has been seeking protection of the house as a historic site. Richard Sherrill, president of the Historical Society of Harford County, confirmed to the AFRO that the Edmund Street property is under consideration for designation.
Grant said the dispute over the property is part of a pattern of municipal attempts to confiscate the property of African-Americans, and that the dispute echoes complaints about city practices she heard from local residents when she was president of the Harford County NAACP.
Rev. C.D. Witherspoon, president of the Baltimore chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), has joined the effort to preserve Grant’s home, and sees what is happening to Grant as part of a broader phenomenon of what he calls “land grabbing,” particularly in the southern United States, in which municipalities attempt to confiscate the property of African-Americans while citing reasons such as overdue water bills or tax liens.
“This is a small part of a very big crisis,” said Witherspoon.
Maryland Del.Aisha Braveboy (D), Grant’s lawyer in the matter, described her negotiations with the city over the future of the home as collaborative, and does not believe that Grant’s ownership of the property is currently at risk.