The Harford Dagger, a citizen journalism web-site providing “news with an edge,” recently published an interesting piece about a fatal explosion in Bel Air as that town prepared for the trail of H. Rap Brown in March 1970. That excellent article caused us to remember the tension caused by those times in Cecil County, so we put together this quick piece.
Maryland was on edge in March 1970 as violence spilled into streets and bomb blasts rocked the tranquility of the night in rural county seats. The fear started growing after H. Rap Brown made an incendiary speech in Cambridge urging African-Americans to burn down the troubled town one summer night in 1967. Gunfire erupted in the streets, two blocks of the Choptank River town burned to the ground, and Brown and a police officer suffered minor gunshot wounds. The militant was charged with inciting a riot.
As time for the case neared in 1970, the proceedings having been moved to Harford County, a wave of blasts swept across Maryland. On March 10th about 1 a.m. a car containing two militants, associates of Brown, blew to bits near the state police barrack in Bel Air. Twenty-four hours later, minutes after midnight on March 11, a blast ripped open the old Dorchester County Courthouse.
Shocked by what was occurring Governor Marvin Mandel put the National Guard on alert and ordered tightened security in public building around the state. Cecil County Sheriff Thomas Mogle and his small force of deputies responded swiftly to the order. The men went on 12-hour shifts and special officers were called in to supplement the thin blue line. The Sheriff said he had been warned through special intelligence of impending protests aimed at the local draft board, IRS office, and courts. “They are going to bomb and destroy the judicial system. Why else would the governor issue the order?” he told a reporter.
In the midst of this, Maryland State Police reported that 7,000 blasting caps were stolen from Ordinance Products, a North East company that made hand grenade triggering mechanisms. The commander of the barrack, Lt. Charles L. Andrews, said there was no connection “at this time” between the theft and the two blasts. The Lt. was familiar with the Harford County situation, because the 44 troopers from his barrack and the Conowingo Post were helping with security in Bel Air. “We wonder what might happen Monday when the trail resumes,” he said “and view it with some dread. We feel we’ll be able to copy with any situation that might developer, however,” he told the Wilmington Morning News.
Already nervous public officials hightened security in Cecil County after an anonymous female telephone caller dialed the jail to report that a bomb was going to go off at the courthouse in Elkton. Prior to the call two deputies stationed in the building heard a “hammering sound” and when they went to investigate they saw a Chevy speed away. With tension already high, the sheriff called for assistance of other police agencies. Residents near the county building were routed out of their homes in the pre-dawn hours while demolition experts from Edgewood Arsenal searched the building. Nothing was found. The phone call caused more of a stir and the Cecil Democrat reported that there were ten deputies and one K-9 dog on duty in and around the courthouse the next business day.
The pre-dawn threat failed to materialize, but in the wake of the fatal car bombing 33-miles west of Elkton and the explosion at the Dorchester County Courthouse in Cambridge, the building was closely guarded until the trail was over.