By Sean Yoes, AFRO Baltimore Editor, firstname.lastname@example.org
During the days of Jim Crow in Southern states like Maryland, Black people were often forced to sit in the balcony or gallery of public gathering spaces like moviehouses, theatres, or courtrooms.
So, it may have been even more surreal for Del. Adrienne Jones of Baltimore County when she closed in on the historic moment of becoming the first Black and first woman to become the Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, when she gazed towards the gallery of the House in Annapolis to see it filled with exuberant Black faces.
Maryland House Speaker Adrienne Jones, second from left, talks to reporters after being elected speaker in a special session on Wednesday, May 1, 2019 in Annapolis, Maryland. She is standing between two other Democrats who ran for the office, Del. Dereck Davis (left) and Del. Maggie McIntosh. Del. Nic Kipke, the House minority leader, is standing right. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)
“I looked up in the gallery and saw the whole gallery filled with African Americans and had no idea of the number that had been up there. I couldn’t believe it,” said Jones to the AFRO.
“The whole magnitude of the fact that I’m the first African-American woman (in Maryland) and I’m only the third African American woman in this country to serve as Speaker.”
On May 1, Jones became only the third Black woman, after Rep. Karen Bass of California, who was the 67th Speaker of the California Assembly (2008-2010), and New Jersey Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, who served as the Speaker of the New Jersey General Assembly (2010-2014), to preside over a state legislative body.
But before that historic moment in American political history manifested, there were several anxious moments when Jones’ ascendance was dubious.
“Well, it was tense at times within the caucus,” Jones said. “Maggie (McIntosh) said, ‘We’re not leaving here until someone gets 71 votes.” For the next few hours Jones revealed the back rooms of the House were a blur of machinations, with members shuffling back and forth, conferring with each other. Jones said she first spoke with Del. Derrick Davis of Prince George’s County, who had originally been the choice for Speaker of the Maryland Black Caucus over Jones.
“Had it gone to the floor and Derrick had gotten all the Republican votes, that would have become an issue. We need unity, not fracturing. I put unity over politics,” Jones said. Allegedly after a couple of hours of mulling the situation, Davis acquiesced. “He essentially said, ‘You stepped aside for me, I’m going to do the same for you.’
Then Jones spoke to Del. Maggie McIntosh, the choice of the Baltimore City Delegation, who Jones said she promised the powerful post of chair of the Appropriations Committee. This was the move that sealed the deal for Jones.
“It was euphoria; there were tears, there were hugs and everything else,” said Jones.
“Only through Him did this happen. I think there was an angel up there by the name of Michael Bush, maybe whispering in God’s ear too. But, only through God could this happen.”
Jones, who has built a reputation as “a worker” from her entry into the House of Delegates in 1997, has immediately gotten to work in her new role. She allegedly met with Baltimore legislators on May 8 to discuss, “Pimlico, the Preakness and everything else,” she said.
“I want to build a bridge. I’m a visual person; I will go to see exactly what their issue is,” Jones added.
“Every area of the state has needs, some more than others. You need to be able to talk to folks who know their area, and it’s not necessarily that representative. You’ve got to talk to people who may not have had an opportunity for anyone to listen to them.”