While Prince George’s County has come a long way since the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, some officials say the county still faces challenges regarding racism.
“We set the stage in the Civil Rights Movement for advancement of minorities, we did it for everybody,” said Bob Ross, president of the county branch of the NAACP. “But yet in some kind of way, African-American contractors have not been getting their share because we sometimes don’t look like other folks in this country. We still have a disadvantage along that line.”
However, Ross said he remembers a time when African-Americans could not even work in a bank or at a local store in the county or get elected into office. Ross said 50 or 60 years ago no black elected officials existed in the county before the police department hired its first officer of color in the 1960s.
“The county is more diverse than any county in the state,” Ross said. “We have people from all around the globe living in Prince George’s County. We’ve come a long way since 1964, but we still have some challenges.”
According to Ross, those challenges include inequities African-Americans and other minorities face.
“What African-Americans said is we cannot work on slave wages and nobody should work for wages that they cannot live on,” Ross said. “They should have a livable wage and in this county, a livable wage would be about $18 or $19 per hour because of the cost of living in this county.”
Beatrice Tignor, a former state legislator and chair of Prince George’s County Board of Education who now works as the municipal liaison for County Executive Rushern Baker III, said Black History Month should include stories of black Americans who have contributed to society but are often overlooked.
“There have been many contributions that still go untapped so it’s a great opportunity to not only learn about the African Americans that people talk about most frequently but to look at the ones who are making contributions today,” Tignor said. “I think that my biggest contribution has been in helping people not only understand not only what they need to know but how to use what they know and to further instill in them that learning is not remembering and memorizing. It is about practicalities. It is about analyzing and problem solving.”
Delegate Jolene Ivey, who grew up in northeast Washington, D.C., said when she attended school there was a “big focus” on the contributions black people had made to the country. However, she said there is still work to be done to get rid of racism.
“I think that the racism that black people faced in previous decades has been more overt and now it’s more the results of racism,” Ivey said.
While she does not believe people purposely tried to harm the black community, Ivey said Prince George’s County was “hit harder by foreclosures than other areas.”
“I don’t believe that there was necessarily a plan to make things difficult for black people but the way the mortgages were done for a number of years, in the end it really had a negative impact on the economic health of black people and many families in Prince George’s County,” Ivey said.