Verda Welcome was the first Black woman to be elected to the Maryland House of Delegates and the Maryland Senate. And despite an assassination attempt in 1964, went on to have a groundbreaking political career that lasted decades. (AFRO Archives Photo)
By Sean Yoes
AFRO Senior Reporter
Verda Welcome was one of the most important 20th century trailblazing public servants in Maryland; a civil rights fighter who pushed several pieces of legislation aimed at dismantling Jim Crow in the state. However, five years into her political ascension, her life was nearly cut short, allegedly by the order of a political rival.
Around midnight April 10, 1964, Welcome pulled up to her house near the 2100 block of Liberty Heights Avenue in West Baltimore. According to Welcome as she began to exit her car, she remembered she had political posters in her backseat that she wanted to take into her home. As she reached for them five shots rang out; one of the bullets grazed her heel, and she was only slightly wounded.
Subsequently, Ernest Young, a member of the Maryland General assembly was charged with hiring four hapless would-be assassins. The New York Times reported on the scandalous story May 9, 1964:
“Five men were charged in the assassination attempt, including state delegate Ernest D. Young. Prosecutors presented substantial evidence that Young organized the plot for political gain. Both Welcome and Young were elected from Baltimore fourth district,” The Times reported. Four men were indicted and jailed for the incident, but Young was found not guilty and apparently faded into political obscurity. However, Welcome’s trailblazing career as a public servant continued.
The Maryland legislator was born Verna Mae Freeman March 18, 1907, on a small farm in Lake Lure, North Carolina to John Nuborn and Ella Theodocia Freeman. Early on she excelled in school, but after the death of her mother, she was faced with the prospect of having to drop out of school and go to work. Instead, in 1929, she decided to move to Baltimore where she enrolled at Coppin State Teachers College. She graduated three years later. In 1935, she married Dr. Henry C. Welcome. Years later Welcome said of her husband, “Everything I’ve done I owe to him, he’s my backer.”
In 1939, she received her bachelor’s degree in history from Morgan State College and then her master’s degree also in history from New York University in 1943. From the time Welcome graduated from Coppin, until 1945, she worked as a teacher in the Baltimore City Public Schools.
In 1958, at age 51, Welcome embarked upon a pioneering political career. Legendary AFRO reporter Moses Newson wrote on November 15, 1958:
“A dazzling new personality burst into the Maryland political picture Tuesday as Mrs. Verda Welcome becomes the first colored woman elected to the Maryland Legislature on her own. Also elected was Mrs. Irma Dixon, but the convincing manner in which Mrs. Welcome independently earned her victory makes it by far the more remarkable and significant,” wrote Newson.
Welcome served in the House until 1962, when she became the first Black woman elected to Maryland’s Senate and only the second Black woman to serve in a state senate in the nation. She served in the Maryland Senate until 1982, and crafted a sparkling legislative career especially in the area of civil rights measures.
She passed legislation that dismantled state sanctioned discrimination in public accommodations, and promoted equal pay for equal work. She lobbied to change Morgan State College to Morgan State University and she helped obtain funding for Provident Hospital. She also worked to eradicate the death penalty. And Welcome fought to reform the state’s correctional facilities, among many other legislative accomplishments.
Welcome, a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority, was inducted into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame in 1988.
Verda Welcome died April 22, 1990. She was 83.