By Sen. Cory McCray (D-Md.-45)
Earlier this year, I was watching the game between the LA Lakers and the Oklahoma City Thunder when Lebron James, a.k.a. “King James,” a.k.a. the “Kid from Akron,” became the NBA’s all-time top scorer. Minutes later, King James took to the microphone and spoke on the career-defining moment. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the first person lifted in a quick, two-minute speech. In that moment, James honored the man who had cracked the glass ceiling nearly 40 years ago – a ceiling he shattered in 2023.
Whenever possible, I try to remind people that before there was a McCray, there was Senator Nathaniel McFadden; and before there was a McFadden there was Senator Nathan Irby. Before Irby, there was Senator Robert Douglass, but preceding them all was Senator Robert L. Dalton.
Nearly 52 years ago, Dalton became the first Black State Senator hailing from East Baltimore to represent the 45th District. Baltimore’s history is rich, and future generations must know.
The late writer and poet Maya Angelou once said, “I have great respect for the past. If you don’t know where you’ve come from, you don’t know where you’re going.”
At a time when some want to scale back how much the current and future generations know about our history, I find it important to know about the good, the bad and the struggles those before me endured.
I learned about Dalton nearly a decade ago while having breakfast with former Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke. Soon after, I found myself sitting down with Sen. Dalton and his wife. Much of the conversation centered on his time as Founder and President of the Coldstream – Homestead – Montebello (CHUM) Neighborhood Association in East Baltimore, where he resided until his last days in 2022. Our meetings continued throughout the years. Like many other leaders from East Baltimore, Dalton was a member of the United Steel Workers and was employed at Sparrows Point. He represented the tenacious, hard-working spirit of Baltimore.
The 2023 legislative session presented a unique opportunity to remember the legislative giant. A new high school football stadium on Harford Road and 25th Street in the CHUM neighborhood will be named the “Senator Robert L. Dalton Stadium,” in his honor. This feat was one of my most critical actions taken this session. Through this legislation, we are protecting the legacy of former Senator Dalton. People will soon take pride in walking in the proposed stadium coming to East Baltimore and his story will continue to be told to unborn generations.
Aside from the stadium, I partnered with the CollegeBound Foundation, and businesses within the 45th District geographic footprint to help our young people have more resources to attend community college or one of our prestigious universities, creating the Senator Robert L. Dalton Scholarship Fund. The scholarship is awarded to three young scholars from the 45th legislative district to help pay for college each year and has been serving its mission since 2018. The one criterion is that the young person(s) be committed to their community through service or volunteerism – one thing Dalton was passionate about during his career. The Senator Robert L. Dalton Scholarship Fund also serves as an emergency scholarship that steps in to help those young people facing economic challenges during the academic school year.
In 1970 when Dalton was elected to the State Senate, policies were accomplished by coalition politics and democratic clubs. That year, 15 of the 18 members of the Democratic Slate won, which made history for East Baltimore.
Dalton represented a predominately Black Eastside Democratic Organization, while Joseph Clarke represented the White New Democratic Club. They came together to make history.
The former senator became a voice for the Black community, ultimately laying much of groundwork for people such as myself to follow.
I am humbled by the responsibility to ensure people know about Sen. Dalton and the work he has done to build up East Baltimore to what it is today.
Sen. Cory McCray represents the 45th District in the Maryland State Senate, which includes Northeast and East Baltimore City. He also served as the first vice chair of the Maryland Democratic Party (2018-2022). He can be reached by email at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @SenatorMcCray
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