Sharon Morrison was born in Carroll County. Morrison grew up with 6 siblings and 3 cousins. Sharon Morrison comes from a family that was active in the Civil Rights Movement.
SHARON MORRISON: Good morning. My name is Sharon Morrison.
INTERVIEWER: How long have you lived in Westminster?
SHARON MORRISON: I’ve lived here– well, I was born and raised here in, uh, Westminster. I moved away when I, um, got married for the first time. Uh, for about 10 to 12 years.
INTERVIEWER: And, when was that about, that you moved away?
SHARON MORRISON: Um, I’d say maybe around 1970 to maybe, um. Well, let’s see. I returned back here actually in 1978. So I guess it was more like eight years. Eight years.
INTERVIEWER: And you moved to where?
SHARON MORRISON: I got married for the first time, and, uh, relocated to Philadelphia to spend some time in Germany, uh, down in Tennessee as military people– he was in the military. So as military people do they travel all over. Um, so I lived in maybe two or three different locations.
INTERVIEWER: But you said you were born in Carroll county?
SHARON MORRISON: Born in Carroll county.
INTERVIEWER: And your family, how big of a family did you have?
SHARON MORRISON: I came from a family of about, let’s see, my mother had six, and we lived with my aunt and her son. So that’s seven, eight, nine, nine of us. Uh, typical black family. Uh, matriarch, uh, my grandmother was a matriarch of the family. There was no, uh– well there was a father present at one point, but then he died, so.
INTERVIEWER: But how far, how for back did your family go, uh, as residents of Carroll County?
SHARON MORRISON: Oh, I think maybe they might– I have memory, I have actually pictures, discussions with my mother, uh, of folks who are I think my great, great, great grandparents lived on Union Street at the time. So I think it goes back pretty far.
INTERVIEWER: So we’re talking 19th century?
SHARON MORRISON: Uh, I would think, yes. Even on the church now, my church I attend, which is Union Street United Methodist, right on Union Street, um, established 1866. I have family members’ names on their stained-glass windows, so, uh, they go back a pretty good distance.
INTERVIEWER: Do you– did your grandmother or mother talk to you about your ancestors, and what they did?
SHARON MORRISON: A little bit. Um, my grandmother used to be a beautician. Um, she had her shop right in her home on Union Street. Uh, we used to live at 49 Union. Um, her parents, her husband, uh, was a porter, uh, for the railroad, uh, Baltimore railroad. And I don’t know whether that’s B&O or what that was. Um, I think grands, great grands further back used to, uh, take in boarders to, you know, raise money for the family. They used to do ironing for people in the community to raise money for the family. Um, many of them worked at the college. For example, my grandmother worked at the college for over 50 years.
INTERVIEWER: Which is now McDaniel College?
SHARON MORRISON: Which is now McDaniel College. So aside from being a beautician, she also worked at the college many, many years. Um, so I mean that’s a little bit of what– you know my mother, for example, worked at, uh, Springfield State Hospital for many years before she passed. Um, I had the aunt that we lived– that lived with me, um, she left me when I was a second-year student at Morgan State University. So, uh, but I believe that she also worked at the college. So a lot of the folks in my neighborhood, Union Street, worked at the college, which was in western Maryland.
INTERVIEWER: Do know either through your own observance of it, or from what your mother or grandmother told you about how it was for your family being an African American to live in Westminster during the 19th, early 20th century?
SHARON MORRISON: Mm-hmm. Now I don’t remember much in terms of what they said my great, great grandparents went through. Um, but I can remember when I was coming up experiencing, of course, issues of racism. And I went to an all-black school, so I didn’t get it at school.
INTERVIEWER: And that school was?
SHARON MORRISON: Robert Moton. Robert Moton School. The old Robert Moton, which is over on Center Street now. They just turned it into Robert Moton Center.
Um, but I can recall out in the community itself, you know, if I went to the store, or attended carnivals, you know, there were occasions when, you know, I was called names, and so forth and so on. I even remember an occasion when my grandmother at the carnival, uh, at St. John’s, up on the hill, um, you know, an incident where somebody call us a name, and she got involved with, you know, I had to settle her down. So she was a pretty spunky 4 and 1/2 4 foot 11″ kind of woman, you know. Um, that stood up, she was the matriarch in our family. She was the strong person in our family.
But, you know, there were, you know, times like that, you know, but not a lot for me. Um, other folk might have experienced a lot more. But, um, I learned to just, you know– I think that I had a good childhood, you know. I had all my needs met, and um, I socialized well with most people in the community. And, um, I belonged to my church, you know. The church of course is, um, the focal point of a black community. And Union Street was all black community at first until Union Village was built there. And then that changed the whole facet of, uh, the community, uh, in terms of it now being mixed, white, Hispanic, and so forth, Mexican. Um, which changes the flavor of the church.
But, you know, I grew up in the church. And I was active, my life was there, as Sunday school, and then later in Methodist Youth Fellowship, and then as an adult. Uh, and I’m still there, so.
INTERVIEWER: Let’s talk about your time at Robert Moton. It was, it was, just a high school? Was it a middle school and high school?
SHARON MORRISON: It was all, elementary through middle, through high school.
INTERVIEWER: And you attended–
SHARON MORRISON: I did from the first to the 12th grade there.
INTERVIEWER: Um, tell me about your experience there? Because you graduated there in 1965?
SHARON MORRISON: Yes
INTERVIEWER: Um, how would you judge the education that you received there?
SHARON MORRISON: I actually believed that I received a good education. I think our teachers were excellent. Uh, we didn’t have a whole lot to work with. We had to use books given to us, or, given down to us from Westminster High School, or wherever they came from. A lot of times not in the best of shape. Um, but those teachers compensated for that. I mean they went out of their way, did things, maybe even– I think I even heard um, did things on their own, you know. A lot of times just to make sure we got the education that we needed. So I felt that I got a good education.
Um, I did very well. Um, I graduated at the top my class. Um, or the second top. And I went on to Morgan. I had enough about me, I had enough with me, I had enough– I was given enough education that I was able to go and graduate from Morgan State University, as well, so. If it was there, you could get. I mean it was there, so you could receive it if you wanted it.
INTERVIEWER: I mean, do you believe that your education at Robert Moton was equal to the education that white children were receiving at other schools?
SHARON MORRISON: No, I, I, I don’t know. I mean I know what I received. I don’t know– I’m sure that they had the best of books, and, um, I don’t know what their caliber of teachers were like. Um, I don’t, I don’t know that I can effectively answer that. I just know what I had, because of what I experienced. Um, I don’t know what anybody else had, you know what I mean.
INTERVIEWER: Were all your teachers at Robert Moton African American?
SHARON MORRISON: Yes.
INTERVIEWER: Uh, was it a private school, or were you financed by the county—
SHARON MORRISON: No, it wasn’t private school. It was tied into the county, somehow.
INTERVIEWER: Now during that time period you were a teenager in Westminster, can you–
SHARON MORRISON: Mm-hmm.
INTERVIEWER: –just tell me how social life for you, was it segregated, that type of thing?
SHARON MORRISON: It was segregated, yes. Um, when we wanted to go to the movies, we could only go to a certain movie. Um.
INTERVIEWER: Where was that? Do you remember where that was located?
SHARON MORRISON: I can’t where– I know it was down at the forks of the road, um, down the street from Carroll Theatre. Um, I can envision it. It’s where the– It was next door to where the old JC Penney’s used to be, which is now, I think, where the city building is. Um across from BB&T Bank, it was in that area somewhere. We could only go to that theatre. And we could only sit at the top of that theatre, in the, uh, upper part of it. Um, I was OK with just the fact that I had a theatre to go to, that I could see, and I could watch the movie. Um, the blacks were up top– we just learned to, OK here’s where we are, and this is how it has to be, so we’re going to make the best out of it.
So I guess that’s why– now that’s not right, it wasn’t right. It wasn’t acceptable. I didn’t like that. But I had to adapt. I mean, I had to make the best of the life that I had, uh, based on how it was. So we got along, we have fun. I saw the movie, I saw the same movie that the white kids saw who down below me. Uh, there were times when, yes, things went on from the top to the bottom, let’s say. Uh, but pretty much we got along. Um.
INTERVIEWER: How about the JC Penney, could you go in the JC Penney.
SHARON MORRISON: Yes, we could go into– stores we could go into. I only can remember, um, the movie theater and maybe a couple restaurants that, um, we couldn’t go into. I can’t even remember the name of them, I just remember that I couldn’t go into some restaurants.
INTERVIEWER: Were there any hotels in town at that time in Westminster?
SHARON MORRISON: Um, there could have been, I just don’t remember. I think maybe, maybe, the old hotel on Main Street or something. I don’t think Days Inn, and things like that, were there yet.
INTERVIEWER: How many of your, of your graduating class ’65 do you remember going to college, as you did?
SHARON MORRISON: Of my class? Um, out of my class maybe one, two, three, uh– I had a class of 21, which was a very small class. Maybe, three out of the 21. Uh, young men went into the military, and died a year later. Um–
INTERVIEWER: In Vietnam?
SHARON MORRISON: Yeah. Maybe three out of the 21.
INTERVIEWER: And how– Let me me ask you this question, how big of a school was Robert Moton? How many number of students?
SHARON MORRISON: Mmm, I don’t even know. It wasn’t like thousands, uh, because, for example, my class was only 21. And I think maybe the average class, maybe, maybe 35, 40, maybe some classes were larger than mine, of course. Um, so I guess if you add it all from first grade to 12th grade, I don’t know, I would say less than 1,000. I could be wrong, but I’d say maybe less than 1,000.
INTERVIEWER: How large was the African American population was there in Westminster in the ’60s?
SHARON MORRISON: Um, I’m going to take a shot again, because I just never concerned myself with those kind of things. But we were small. Uh, there were blacks on Union Street. There were blacks on Charles Street. Um, they were two old streets, you know, so blacks would live there for a long time. Those were the only two areas– oh, and West and Chapel out in, um, it’s really called New Windsor, but it’s out on the hill, so to speak, Chapel Hill. Um the only three black residential areas that I was familiar with. Um–
INTERVIEWER: Now do you believe that was by choice, or by necessity that those only three areas that African Americans lived in?
SHARON MORRISON: Uh, I just think that’s just how it was. Um, I don’t know that they could stretch out and get into apartments, and you know, I’m think there had to be a reason by blacks were segregated here, and only here, and here, and here, you know. It was a lot of history on those streets, you know, which means folks had been there a long, long time. Um, but I’m sure that segregation had a whole lot to do with why, you know, there was– I mean now we’re in the greens, we’re able to buy homes in greens, and so forth, and so on. So we’re– it’s much more wide open, of course, now.
INTERVIEWER: Now when you graduated in ’65, you went, you said Morgan State–
SHARON MORRISON: Yeah.
INTERVIEWER: –College, at that time. Morgan State College.
SHARON MORRISON: Morgan State College, yes.
INTERVIEWER: And four years, you attended Morgan State College?
SHARON MORRISON: Uh, I think I was there really give years.
INTERVIEWER: Five years?
SHARON MORRISON: Yeah.
INTERVIEWER: So, until 1970.
SHARON MORRISON: 70, 1970.
INTERVIEWER: Now, uh, you commuted back and forth between Westminster and–
SHARON MORRISON: No, I actually lived on campus all five years.
SHARON MORRISON: Yeah, I was able to do that. Um, you know, it gave my family– supported me through the college, I had grants, I had, I think I had a senatorial scholarship that pretty much carried me all five years. Uh, you had to maintain the grade, of course in order to hold onto to scholarships. So I felt I did pretty well.
INTERVIEWER: Were you the first member of your family to attend college?
SHARON MORRISON: Uh, no, actually my– I have a cousin who’s a year older, uh, and he was at Morgan. So he was able to go, as well.
INTERVIEWER: But still it was an unusual thing for your family, I guess, to have someone go to college.
SHARON MORRISON: Unusual. I would, yes, unusual.
INTERVIEWER: And why did you decide to go to college?
SHARON MORRISON: Actually, I can recall, um, in my high school year, I worked part time at Caroleen Beauty Shop on Main Street. Um, I was the person that would shampoo– I was the shampoo girl. And I actually had a passion for fashion, and fashion design, and fashion illustration that type thing. I used to love– I grew up with the old Katy Keene comic books, you know, paper dolls, that kind of thing.
But because I had this passion, I would create my own fashions for the paper dolls, and so forth, and so on. I had an opportunity in one of the books to do a draw me contest, where you actually drew the doll, and then the fashion, and so forth. Sent it in. I came home for lunch from this job one day, and I had somebody sitting in my, uh, living room from the Chicago Institute of Art, who said, you know, you scored over 90% on this test. So anybody who scored over 90% we come out and visit, and we try to get you to come to Chicago Institute of Art. That’s where I really wanted to go. Um, but my mother had something else to say about that. So she’s like, no, you need to go get a liberal arts education. You need to go– and she was behind me, pushing me, um, the whole time in terms of college, and you’ve got to get better, and you’ve got to make your grades, you know.
Um, and so that’s what I did. I said, OK well I won’t do is. I’ll just go and get a four-year college education.
INTERVIEWER: And, what did you major in?
SHARON MORRISON: I had three different majors, because I still tried to get to that fashion illustration and fashion design. So I went in under, um, home economics, where– yeah, I think it was home economics. And then I switched to art. But then I ended up in sociology. Uh, between home economics and art, I realized that, you know, those folks really were artists at what they did. I wasn’t quite making that grade, so, uh, I went on over to sociology, which is another love.
You know I really– I’m a person that, most people will tell you, um love to just do for others. I have always. I have this passion to just help the underdog, somehow. Or not the underdog– well maybe the underdog is not the quite word, but you know, to help those in need. Um, those who are experiencing less than. Um, and so when I applied for the job working with addicts, um, it was right up my alley, in terms of helping people with needs, so.
INTERVIEWER: And during that period, though, the ’50s and ’60s, that was the height of the Civil Rights Movement in this country.
SHARON MORRISON: Mm-hmm.
INTERVIEWER: Um, and was any your family involved actively in the Civil Rights Movement?
SHARON MORRISON: Um, not my family, per se. Um, other than to have general opinions about it. But my friends, uh, there were a couple of organizations that formulated around the time. Uh, and I recall some of them being a part of, uh, the organizations. Um, and then, I guess it might have been more in the ’70s, I’m trying to recall these dates, because I actually lived– I was actually married and lived in Philadelphia. So that was in the early ’70s that we experienced a riot, and our first and only riot I think in Westminster. Um.
INTERVIEWER: So the riot took place in the ’70s?
SHARON MORRISON: Yes. I think it was more in the ’70s.
INTERVIEWER: Do you what, why there was a riot in the ’70s in Westminster?
SHARON MORRISON: Well it had to do with fractions of people that were– it happened, it started down in ripples. Um, um, what do you call it? Pool place. And I think blacks and whites had, had attended there, and usually got along reasonably well, because I really think, you know, some of the blacks did have friends who were white, you know. And got along fine. But then there were others who were more racist, couldn’t get along. And I think that’s what happened at the, at the, um, place, at the pool place. And, um, and then tempers got caught up, and racism– you know, all around racism.
But, um the white guys the left that place, and the argument, or whatever, went on. It might have even been a fight down there. But I think as a way retaliation, drove through Union Street, threw rocks into a lady’s house. Um, she had just gotten up from the rocking chair by the window, elderly lady. And, um, or else she would’ve been killed, of course.
INTERVIEWER: This was the African American part of town?
SHARON MORRISON: Yes, Union Street, the African American part of town.
INTERVIEWER: Was that also where the African American businesses were located?
SHARON MORRISON: There are no– there were no African American businesses.
SHARON MORRISON: Uh, there was a store on the corner that was owned, you know, by a white man. Uh, but, you know, they had become almost like family, you know, because that was a black community. They– the stuff in the store catered to the black community, and so forth. And they– we just grew up with those folks, you know. Um, uh, Mr. King. I remember, his name is Mr. King.
That was the only business. Um, I think there was– I can’t remember what was, where the laundromat is now. Um, it might have been a restaurant, another kind of restaurant of some sort.
But there were no black-owned businesses. Um, so anyway, that’s what sparked the riots. And they just kind of went on from there, because once they did that then black kind of gathered together in the community on Union Street, and even from other– the other three area– other two areas. Uh, and just kind of rallied to Union Street, closed the borders of the street, call themselves really protecting the street, because the guys just kept coming through and doing things.
Uh, and then at one point they were even running behind in people’s yards. And, you know, I can remember my mother getting paranoid about that, because this is an experience that they’ve never had–
INTERVIEWER: How long did this last for?
SHARON MORRISON: –not feeling safe. I think it lasted a good week. Maybe even longer than, maybe a couple weeks.
INTERVIEWER: Was anyone hurt?
SHARON MORRISON: Yes. There were people who ended up being hurt indirectly, uh, because of it.
INTERVIEWER: Any damage to property?
SHARON MORRISON: Uh, yes, of course, the lady’s house, and other people’s property yeah.
INTERVIEWER: Any burning of houses?
SHARON MORRISON: No, no, burning of houses.
INTERVIEWER: Do you know what the police did?
SHARON MORRISON: I remember them– now again, I lived in Philly, so I got this story when I came home, or when I talked to people, because I actually watched it on Channel 6 News in Philadelphia, and I immediately called home. Uh, and, they, the, whoever was controlling the street at that time had told everybody in the houses what to do at certain times, if things happened. You know, you had to hit the floor, and all that kind of stuff. Uh, they even had visuals where the women were providing coffee, because the men stayed out all night long, because the guys were just coming through doing things. So they, again, closed the borders and put a protection around the street, and the folk there.
Um, um, I can recall them having a con– they said they had a conversation with the city, with the mayor, it ended up– they all– certain number of citizens went down to the city council, I guess or somewhere, city hall. Uh, and, brought it to some kind of resolution. You know what I mean. Now I don’t know if folk were punished, if they actually were charged with anything, I don’t know about– I don’t remember any of that.
INTERVIEWER: After that riot, was– you said it was 1970, what year do you think it was?
SHARON MORRISON: I think early ’70s.
INTERVIEWER: After that took place, did race relations improve in Westminster?
SHARON MORRISON: I think the organizations developed. Um, attempts were made to, um, better the race relations. Um, and I think racism is probably always going to be there to very subtle sort of way. You just can’t change people’s attitudes like that. Um, but it wasn’t so much overt.
Now, you know, as I’m talking I can remember even before the ’70s when you initially was talking about the ’50s and the ’60s, that KKK was very present, very much present. Gamber Finksburg area, um, no blacks lived in that area. It was clear cut, the area for, um, racism, uh, because that’s where Ku Klux Klan was. And that’s where they operated.
Um, I can remember an occasion where they came to Westminster, was at the railroad tracks on one side of the street handing out literature, and so forth. And whatever the organization was at that time, and I was part of that, because we started at our church, and then walked down, because we knew that that was going to happen because it had to be publicized. Uh, so we were on one side of the street, they were on the other side of the street, and it was kind of tension, but nobody ever crossed.
INTERVIEWER: How old were you then when you did that?
SHARON MORRISON: Um, mm, I was a teenager. I was a teenager. And whatever this organization was, and I can’t just recall the name of it right now, but John Lewis was a part of it. Um, and [INAUDIBLE] Collins, George Collins was a part of that, as well. Um, I can recall that we went to Washington DC. He formulated what they called a Poor People March. I mean they, they had a Poor People March in DC. John got the kids together, and we were on the back of a truck, went down to participated in the Poor People’s March when it happened down in Washington DC.
SHARON MORRISON: That was in the ’60s, yeah. Um, I can remember working in the medicine area, working with giving people medications, and things like that, somehow or another helping out in that area. That was a unique experience, you know, with people just everywhere.
INTERVIEWER: Was this organization affiliated with your church?
SHARON MORRISON: Mmm. United
SHARON MORRISON: No, I think it was more just a community effort. I– we were a part, we were in there, because I think John was a member of Union Street at the time. Uh, but George, George Collins, for example, was from Sykesville, was from a Johnsville United Methodist Church. So I think it was more a community effort.
INTERVIEWER: This was, this was before the NAACP had a chapter–
SHARON MORRISON: Yes.
INTERVIEWER: –in Carroll County.
SHARON MORRISON: Yes, this was–
INTERVIEWER: And when you used to go down with other members of this organization to, well, confront is probably the wrong word, but to have a presence when the KKK was in town.
SHARON MORRISON: I can only remember doing that one time.
INTERVIEWER: Um, what did you do when you arrived there? What was your purpose to be there?
SHARON MORRISON: There meaning on walking on the other side of the street? Just to send the message that we are against what you are against.
INTERVIEWER: Did you sing like hymnals, or that type of thing?
SHARON MORRISON: I think we did sing. Um, I think we did sing, I don’t remember chanting. But I think we might have sang spirituals, or something.
INTERVIEWER: Did you get any–
SHARON MORRISON: Freedom, freedom kinds of things.
INTERVIEWER: Did you get any kinds of, uh, not feedback, but clash with the KKK over that?
SHARON MORRISON: No, we never clashed. Verbally, but physically nothing ever happened.
INTERVIEWER: Now, how about your family. Did they say to you, I can’t go to Finksburg, or I can’t travel to Finksburg because of this, uh, because of the KKK presence there?
SHARON MORRISON: Mm-hmm. Oh yeah, we couldn’t– there was no stopping in Finksburg, there was no living in Finksburg. You just went through Finksburg. You just went through Gamber. You never stopped. Um, never.
INTERVIEWER: Is that because there was– there had been violence against African Americans?
SHARON MORRISON: Just a sense of– I don’t– maybe here and there different people experiencing that you would hear. Uh, not on a major scale with them, but just the fact that they were there. So we just, you know, you just don’t put yourself in harm’s way, you know. Uh, you try to avoid that area altogether. Of course now it’s different, because blacks do live in Finksburg and Gamber area. Uh, I think it’s, I hope that it’s much different, I’m thinking that it is, because they now live there.
INTERVIEWER: Could you, I mean, could you sense in the ’60s whether the KKK was a fringe group, or was it supported by the general population, or.
SHARON MORRISON: Um, I, well I think because there was a lot more racism back there, that obviously that was an important group. Uh, I don’t know how much support they had, you know what I mean. Um, I mean we would have rumors that, uh, or hearsay, or whatever, that maybe some town officials were a part of the KKK, you know, things like that. We were– I really don’t know. I really couldn’t say.
INTERVIEWER: How about, did you, were you aware or was it difficult for your family, or other African Americans to get jobs in Westminster during the ’60s?
SHARON MORRISON: Uh, I would say there was not a lot of blacks in professional positions. I’ll put it that way. I mean, I can remember just again, taking in people’s clothing, usually white people’s clothing, to press. Uh, working in their homes as maids. Um, doinng– being the cooks, or the cleaners. Uh, working at the college, the positions at the college were maids.
I worked there part time when I was going to school at Morgan, uh, because my grandmother worked there. And so I was able to get a job there. It was as a maid, or we worked in the kitchen as the bakers, and the cooks, and so forth, and so on. Those are the kind of positions that we held. Or we took in borders into our own homes. And you know, generated money that way. But I don’t recall a whole lot of people being in professional positions.
INTERVIEWER: How about trying to get loans from banks back then to purchase a house?
SHARON MORRISON: I don’t know how, um, I don’t, I don’t know. But I do know the blacks owned homes. Now, I don’t know how they were– you know, whether that was something passed down through generations. For example, I don’t know how we were able to purchase our home.
INTERVIEWER: Is it possible that you had your own private organization that loaned money among yourselves to purchase homes?
SHARON MORRISON: Maybe there were banks that did do that. Um, I– it’s interesting, it’s an interesting question, I just don’t know how that came about. But I do know that we– there were some folks on Union Street that did own their own homes.
INTERVIEWER: And now when you graduate in 190 from Morgan State, you came back to Carroll County.
SHARON MORRISON: I, no. I, that’s when I got married, and I relocated to Philadelphia, and ended up being away for– well what, eight years.
INTERVIEWER: And then you returned to Carroll County in 1978?
SHARON MORRISON: 1978 I returned back.
INTERVIEWER: And why did you return to Carroll County in 1978.
SHARON MORRISON: Uh, the marriage failed. And so I divorced, and came home. Uh, and then proceeded to start a new life.
INTERVIEWER: Now were you working when you were a Philadelphia?
SHARON MORRISON: Yes, um, um, that period of time though, I mean, I still didn’t hold a professional job. Uh, I was more like a homemaker. Uh, my husband preferred that– he was in the military but, um, he just preferred that to be a homemaker, and not necessarily hold a position. So I was here, and there, and everywhere between Germany and Philly sometimes. And then we relocated to Tennessee. I was working– his mother owned a restaurant in Philadelphia, so I worked a lot there. Um, when we were in Germany I held a job at the Geico insurance company. So, uh, but that was maybe only, maybe for about a year. And then I returned to the States.
INTERVIEWER: And when you came back to Carroll County you got a job doing what?
SHARON MORRISON: I immediately saw the job in the newspaper for, uh, counselor at the health department, uh drug counselor. I applied for the job, and was able to get the job. And so I started working there in, I believe, April of 1978. Uh, it was only a matter of two weeks once I returned home that I went to work there.
INTERVIEWER: And how long how long did you work there for?
SHARON MORRISON: I worked there until– for about 30 years. I retired from there, uh, what, a year, a year ago I guess.
INTERVIEWER: Last year 2007?
SHARON MORRISON: Yes.
INTERVIEWER: Um, and what did you do there?
SHARON MORRISON: I was a drug counselor, addictions counselor.
INTERVIEWER: Now so you, you were there for about 30 years. So you saw the addiction problems of Carroll County residents for that 30 year period. Did it, did it change any way as to the drug of choice, or severity, or even age of the people you were seeing?
SHARON MORRISON: Uh, drug of choice changed from primarily alcohol and marijuana, to heroin, cocaine, a little PCP every now and then, not so much so. Um, age, uh, because while I there in those 30 years I worked adults, but I also worked adolescent. i was the adolescent counselor for a while. Uh, I, in fact, I transported– we, our health department connected to the shock trauma unit for drinking and driving among youths, for what they call the High Risk Trauma Prevention program. So I transported youth down there once a month, who were– who had been caught for DWIs. As part of their, uh, treatment, so to speak.
Um, and so, I aw the age, um, average age maybe 15, 16, later on, um, as I transferred from outpatient to working in the detention center, uh, and then begin to experience clients at 18 coming into, um, the jail. But learning that their drug of choice, or their– not drug of choice, I’m sorry, their drug history started at 11, and eight, and nine. Um, so, you know, it started much earlier with kids later on.
And, um, then they were– and then these kids were involved in heroin. They were not so much involved with marijuana, and so forth. Um, they started out– the process is cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, and then rapidly into cocaine, heroin. So they started with the cocaine and heroin at a lot earlier age, then when I was dealing with kids at outpatient they started with alcohol, cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, 14, 13, you know that type of thing.
INTERVIEWER: To you, was this a problem, an addiction problem, that was rampant through the teenage years or was a small group of, uh, teenagers that you felt you were dealing with?
SHARON MORRISON: Uh, no, I think the problem was significant in terms of adolescences, even when I was the adolescent case manager I thought the problem with significant then. I think of course a lot of people would deny the significance of it. But the– a child with an addiction problem, is not a child existing by itself. He has friends.
If there was a DWI situation, and if kids got killed, it wasn’t one child. When they traveled, they traveled in groups of five or six, you know. In one car, whatever the case might be. So five or six people got injured. Um, so, I just think the problem was significant, uh, and maybe the community just wasn’t in tune with that. Maybe until they got into the heroine and 20 or 25 kids died in a matter of, I don’t know what, one to three years.
INTERVIEWER: When was that?
SHARON MORRISON: I– the years I’m real fuzzy about, but I just know it was a very short period of time. Um, because once that began to happen, the community began to rally, uh, around heroin prevention, and that type of thing, more drug prevention, and so forth, and so on. More money coming in to the county, uh, I mean I can remember at one point it being called a hotspot. You know, hotspots was Union Street, Pennsylvania Avenue corridor. I can remember major drug dealing going on there. And I lived there at the time. Right on Union Street, right on Pennsylvania Avenue. I mean literally open-air market– I mean, you know the whole shebang.
I mean I can recall a police officer being right here the mailbox on Union Street, but yet everybody was moving around him. I mean like 100, or so, people on the street one Memorial Day. Major drug trafficking going on.
INTERVIEWER: 1990s this was at? Or before then?
SHARON MORRISON: Um, mm, I want– maybe, maybe in the ’90s. Maybe in the ’90s.
INTERVIEWER: When you left in 2007, had did it– there was an improvement at least in the amount of funds, and the care administered to the citizens for addiction?
SHARON MORRISON: When I let the health department?
SHARON MORRISON: Uh, there was a lot more invested. There was a lot more invested in terms of the nature of treatment programs. Junction, um, was the drug treatment program for adolescents, but now it’s pretty much drugs, alcohol, they do both Carroll County Health Department now does both. There were major changes that came about. I mean the state, of course, got involved. Um, many more drug prevention organizations in Carroll county. Um, just a lot more began to happen as a result of that.
Now I can’t tell you, because I’ve been removed from it, what the numbers are like now. You know I mean, in terms of the kids. Um, I know it’s still a pressure for– I have nieces and nephews, I have nieces primarily, um, who are now 15, 16. Um, who, I know, are experiencing the same little kind of stresses, or pressures in terms of using alcohol, for example. It’s a beginning point.
Um, so it’s still out there. It’s still– it’s always probably going to be there. Um, but there’s a lot more treatment available, a lot more prevention, a lot of folk queuing in on the kids now, at, when it happens the first time around that I can see. Um, I don’t know if it’s ever going to go away, um, but at least there’s enough early intervention taking place, which is, I think is real critical. Even down to elementary level, even down to working with kids, um, in kindergarten, you know, in some aspects. Because that’s really where it needs to start, in terms of changing attitudes, and so forth.
Even as far as working with families. I mean that, you know, these kids come out of unhealthy families, or dysfunctional families. Uh, I know that there’s a lot going on in Carroll County, as far as addressing families, and so forth, and so on. And so a lot more being done.
INTERVIEWER: Let me change subjects a little bit, going back to the ’60s, were members of your family, um, any of them participate in the Vietnam War, we’re actually in the Vietnam War?
SHARON MORRISON: Uh, my brother– not, um, I don’t know about the Vietnam war. I remember my brother Dennis was in Korea.
INTERVIEWER: In Korea.
SHARON MORRISON: Um, I don’t remember anybody in my family, per se, being in Vietnam. But I know of others who were in Vietnam.
INTERVIEWER: Was there, was there a–
SHARON MORRISON: Oh, you know what, I’m sorry. I have a brother that was in Vietnam. He was in Vietnam. My brother Walter, he’s a Vietnam veteran.
INTERVIEWER: Was there is a veterans’ organization that was African American only in Carroll County.
SHARON MORRISON: No.
INTERVIEWER: Now I understand– were you a member, or are you remembered of NAACP?
SHARON MORRISON: Now, yes.
INTERVIEWER: When did you join?
SHARON MORRISON: Um, well I had joined a couple years ago, and then let the membership go. And then rejoined again– what is this, 2008– maybe early this year.
INTERVIEWER: And what do you do for, with them, or for them?
SHARON MORRISON: Right now, I’m just in it, you know, I attend the meetings. But, uh, I’m not as active as I should be, you know. But there’s– that’s going to change.
INTERVIEWER: Do you know what they do, I mean what–
SHARON MORRISON: In terms of addressing racism in–
INTERVIEWER: Carroll County.
SHARON MORRISON: Mm-hmm. Uh, also helping in other areas. Helping with minority, uh, getting minority teachers through the Carroll County public school system. Um, they associate themselves also with McDaniel College, around Martin Luther King celebration time, and get involved there. Uh, wherever there is that cross reference of blacks and whites I’ve seen them making that effort to get involved. Uh, I know Jean has gone on behalf of the minority teacher issue. You know, out of the area even to attend different things as far as–
INTERVIEWER: Jean who?
SHARON MORRISON: Jean Lewis, who’s the current president. Um, so and I’ve known even through working through– working in the Carroll County Detention Center, you know, even working with other minorities, not just blacks, but you know, Hispanics, and so forth, and so on that. That they’ve tried to help, in that presence, uh, have a presence there. You know, help out in some way. Whenever anybody calls on them, has an issue, and makes the claim, they go and try to help in some ways, so.
INTERVIEWER: How about African American businesses in Carroll County, are they increased, or?
SHARON MORRISON: I don’t know any African American businesses, black owned in Carroll County. Um, I don’t know of any, and I’ll stand corrected if I’m wrong. But, uh, I would think that I would– but I don’t know of any black owned businesses still in Carroll County.
INTERVIEWER: Let’s talk about your church, uh, briefly. Um, your church, as you said, it’s been around for?
SHARON MORRISON: Since 1866.
INTERVIEWER: 1866. Um, and it was an all African American church at that time?
SHARON MORRISON: Yes.
INTERVIEWER: And to this day is it primarily a–
SHARON MORRISON: Over the last several years, it has been very small percentage of Caucasian folks who have joined the church. Um, I think folk have joined– they come, they experience an emotional, um, a very emotional experience with the black experience in a black church. Um, and different folks have joined along the way, I think they’ve liked the preacher at the time, they liked what was going on in terms of ministry at the time, and so they joined.
They’ve come, and they’ve gone, you know like when a preacher would leave they’re no longer there. They still have– we still have friendships with some of those people. Um, I see them occasionally, but they’re not– don’t have an active presence. But when they were there they had an active presence. Uh, at least some of them did.
Um, even now we have uh, just one who married into a black family, and consequently has stayed. Uh, and I believe, and is very much involved, very active, extremely active in the church. Um, as well as in other community organizations. Um, she likes, I believe, the black experience still. She’s very connected, uh, to the people there, to the family there, she’s a very much part of our family.
Um, we had a lady who came, a white lady who came last week. We had a yard sale, uh, and she just found her way to the yard sale, but received– was minister to while she was there. Came the next day to church, has since had a conversation with the pastor.
Um, so, at a very small percentage, but it’s still primarily black. We worship in a black experience. Um, but like I said our membership is, maybe, a little less than, maybe 1%.
INTERVIEWER: How large of a congregation is it?
SHARON MORRISON: Not very large. Uh, you know, usually there’s a certain number on the books, and there’s a certain number in attendance. Uh, but I’d say maybe it’s over 100 and some on the books, and maybe on a average, maybe 60 some people on Sunday. 50 to 60. 56
INTERVIEWER: Both from a historical point of view, and currently what’s the, what’s the relationship of your church United Methodist to the community at large.
SHARON MORRISON: Uh, we’ve tried to really be the beacon for the community. Um, for example, the community center that sits across the street from us now is called the Westminster, uh, Community Center. Of which, uh, I’m going to call her name, Debbie Simms is the one person who is a member of our church, who I was talking about earlier, uh, is the director. But a number– but that was birthed out of Union Street United Methodist Church as a result of the riots, um, over in California. Communities came together, neighborhoods came together, and said we need to do something. The United Methodist Conference bought into that. The Baltimore Washington United Methodist Conference.
Then they began to create what they called, Communities of Shalom. Uh, and a number of us, uh, the pastor at that time, Pastor Howard Henson, involved us in that process. And so a number of us went for training sessions on an ongoing basis, uh, to learn about Communities of Shalom, and how to create one. As a result of that, we created the Westminster Community of Shalom. Uh, and from that, um, we came the Westminster Community Center.
That is, um, a house that was owned by one of our oldest members. He passed away. The daughter decided to sell. We were, praise God, in a position where we could buy. And so now that is our property. The house was too old to do anything with, and so we tore that down. And the question was with the congregation, what we do.
We surveyed the community, uh, to find out what the needs were. The needs were that there are youth here who are, um, seven, eight, coming up with nothing to do. A lot of them. We need a center. We need something here. We need something for the kids. So that birthed Boys and Girls Club.
We didn’t have the building yet. But the idea was we’re going to create a center where we can house the Boys and Girls Club. Where we can be a beacon for the community for youth in this area. Uh, and now, as a result of the Boys and Girls Club developed very early. And we house them in our church for the longest time. Uh, that was led by Phyllis Hammond. Um, who was the director of the Boys and Girls Club at that time.
And then the Westminster Community of Shalom, the organization, worked with the community, began to work with community. People just we can began to come on board. West with United Methodist Church was a key player. Um, some other organizations were key player. Key people in the community. Key leaders. Uh, the mayor has sense become a key leader. City got on board with helping us. Grants began to come, and $1 million project is now sitting across the street, uh, with an elevator and all.
I mean we were– it’s going to have an elevator. It’s going to have this, it’s going to have that. Um, but we met on an ongoing basis, and got this piece together with the help of the community. I mean they basically rallied.
INTERVIEWER: And what do you do there, what goes on there?
SHARON MORRISON: I’m a member of the organization. So what we’re trying to do is– the Community of Shalom was about economic development in the community providing, bringing, doing things that bring about peace, and Shalom in the community, between– and especially now, between fractions of people. It’s now Mexican, white, black, um, Hispanic. Um, and so we try– we sit at the table and try to come up with ideas in terms of how to do just that. Uh, you know the community– what can, how, what can we bring into this center that can aid the community in some way, at less expense to the community. Little or no expense to the community, to make it easy for them.
Um, so hence the Boys and Girls Club is now there functioning. They’re running a summer camp program right now, uh, of about 60 kids I think are there. They are in need of some support. We need to the community to rally towards them.
Also the Westminster Community of Shalom, which is organization that is in charge of the Westminster Community Center. A lot of people believe that that building is the Boys and Girls Club, but it’s not. It’s really the community center where the Boys and Girls Club is just one of the projects that’s there.
There are other projects there as well. There’s people there were offering art to young, young children. There’s yoga classes going on there. Um, and so that’s what we’re trying to do is to provide opportunities for the community in there.
We’re looking at holding financial workshops, PNC Bank is wanting to get on board with some of that. So we’re kind of networking with organizations in the community, and developing alliances and partnerships with banks, and so forth, and so on. Uh, to keep that building operating. And so we’re seeking support on behalf of Westminster Community of Shalom for the Westminster Community Center.
We’re seeking some support for the organization itself, so we can continue to operate as an organization that we can operate that Westminster Community Center, that we can provide and meet the needs of the community. Not just the Union Street community, but the Carroll County area in general.
INTERVIEWER: That seems like it ties into your lifelong work of drug counseling, and the way of preventing–
SHARON MORRISON: Of just helping, yes, in whatever way, whether directly or indirectly.
INTERVIEWER: But also with the Boys and Girl Clubs. I mean one of the reasons I would think why child get into drugs is the fact that they don’t have that type of activity.
SHARON MORRISON: Yes, yes. Uh, the Boys and Girls Club has an advisory council, um, that I’m going to get back on board with. Um, you know there’s just a lot that can be done just to help the youth in the area. And we’ve begun. I’m still amazed. I’m like here’s a building that has an elevator in it. Praise God, the community came together, and we still need them to come together. So hopefully people will continue to give support to the center and it’ll be a long time.
INTERVIEWER: Well thank you Ms. Morrison for your time today.
SHARON MORRISON: You’re quite welcome. Thank you.