In an outstanding program this evening, the significant contributions of local Civil Rights pioneer McKinley Scott were recalled by his son, Michael Scott, for an engaged audience at the public library in Perryville. The tireless crusader, struggling to create cracks in the walls of segregation and level the playing field, stood up against injustices, while tackling tough issues, despite threats of harm. His local activism came during the tensest times of the nation’s Civil Rights movement.
Mr. Scott graduated from the “Elkton Colored School” in 1930 and when the attack on Pearl Harbor jolted everyone’s life he joined the Navy. There the gifted musician, from the George Washington Carver High School, served in the Navy Band at the Great Lakes Naval Air Station. He returned home to North East after World War II, bringing new energy and ideas learned serving his country back to Cecil.
Recalling life while growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, Michael said he would hear his family talking about what was going on in the south. His father was anxious to see improvements here and when a local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was formed in 1962 he became active in the organization, leading it for a period during its formative years. As Mr. Scott jumped into the midst of politics and the civil rights movement, Michael started attending school at the Charlestown Elementary school, as the option plan had been implemented.
In the early 1960s, a segregated system for public accommodations prevailed here. Going to the movies in North East, he once inquired as to why he and his older brother had to sit upstairs. “That’s just the way it is,” was the shrug. At the Conowingo Diner, a restaurant on the highly traveled Route one, just south of the Mason Dixon Line, his father was involved in attempting to integrate the eatery. There were other efforts related to voting and an unsuccessful campaign for election as a state delegate in 1968.
Events of 1968 hit close to home for the Scotts. The campaign for a seat in the House of Delegates was underway, headline grabbing news about violence, riots, and assassinations alarmed the family, and there were personal threats. When President Johnson, the chief executive who pushed through important public accommodation and voting laws, announced his surprise decision not to seek reelection, it was a subject of concern for the advocate.
But darker days were ahead. An assassin’s bullet killed the Civil Rights Crusader, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis TN, creating some of the nation’s most troubling times. As Mr. Scott entered his family home that spring so long ago, his wife said, have you heard the news. But the violence of this unsettled, troubling year was far from finished.
One dark July night on a rural road outside North East, an explosion suddenly rocked the family home. As everyone scrambled to safety on that unforgettable summer, police cars converged on the home in the country. The Ku Klux Klan had tossed an explosive device at the home of the president of the local NAACP. This resulted in a major investigation by the FBI and Maryland State Police, and the law enforcement agencies infiltrated the local KKK, the Cecil Whig reported.
About a month later, the police suddenly appeared at the door and said you have to get out of here now, as we have information that another attempt is going to be made to bomb the house. Michael, a 15-year-old, grabbed his precious valuables, a Bible, savings account book, a little change and a small box he had made in woodshop. The family spent that tense night at the Maryland State Police Barrack, as a large squad of officers surrounded the house. Neighbors were also evacuated, and three State Troopers from the Bel Air Barrack were assigned to cover the local patrols here, as county law enforcement geared up for a long all night vigil.
Sometime in the wee, quiet hours of that weary Sunday, the surveillance team observed a vehicle creeping up on the house. When the police staked-out on each side of the property swooped in to arrest the men, they fled. But an outer perimeter detail blocked the road, capturing the driver although a second person in the car jumped out fled into the woods. The arrested man had 15 sticks of dynamite on him, so an Edgewood Army Arsenal explosive team, a part of the well-organized detail, defused the bombs.
Days later, the leader of the Cecil County NAACP was offered a major promotion on the railroad, working out of Northern New Jersey. Over the next few decades Mr. Scott rose through the ranks of the Pennsylvania Railroad and Amtrak, eventually retiring as the chief engineer in charge of the road between New York and Washington D.C.
He returned to the family home in 1992. The aging crusader who was willing to stand up to injustices and was not afraid to tackle tough issues despite threats of harm died in July 2012 at the age of 89. “This country has come a long way and Cecil County has come a long way,” Michael observed as he concluded an insightful program about the Civil Rights era at the top of the Chesapeake.
This was a valuable library program that explored some new areas of history. Thank you Cecil County Public Library and Michael Scott for sharing Mr. Scott’s powerful story.