Hogan visits monument in North Dorchester

Dorchester Banner/Paul Clipper Two of the original men honored on the Historic Freedom Shrine, Dr. Gregory Meekins (left) and Don Bradley (blue jacket) stand with Governor Larry Hogan and Dr. Carl Barham during the governor’s recent visit to North Dorchester.

Dorchester Banner/Paul Clipper
Two of the original men honored on the Historic Freedom Shrine, Dr. Gregory Meekins (left) and Don Bradley (blue jacket) stand with Governor Larry Hogan and Dr. Carl Barham during the governor’s recent visit to North Dorchester.

HURLOCK — Governor Larry Hogan came to North Dorchester on June 20 to visit the voting freedom monument located on MD Route 16 just south of Preston. The monument commemorates the 10 county men who worked to change the voting system in Dorchester County from an at-large system to a district representative system. With his visit, Governor Hogan became the first Maryland governor to visit the site.

Joining the governor for his visit was Senator Addie Eckardt, Delegates Johnny Mautz and Chris Adams, Hurlock Mayor Michael Henry and the Hurlock Town Council members, Dr. Carl Barham, Gregory Meekins and Don Bradley, and a number of other county residents.

The 40,000 lb. monument, erected in 1987, commemorates the passing of legislation ordering statewide voting equity. Leading advocate for the monument, Dr. Carl S. Barham, proudly declares that north Dorchester County is the “Birthplace of Voter Reform.” The inscription on the monument reads: “We the people honor these men who brought democracy to Dorchester County July 8, 1985 by a change of the Constitution of Maryland ordered by the United States Courts.”

These 10 men were George C. Jones, Don W. Bradley, Richard Harding, Edward Conway, Leon Medford, Charles F. Hurley Sr, Oliver Harding, William Harding, William Reid, William O. Corkan and Gregory Meekins. Two of them, Mr. Meekins from Cambridge and Mr. Conway from North Dorchester, are black. Greg Meekins and Don Bradley are the only two remaining men from this list who remain alive today, and both were on hand for the governor’s visit.

Until 1986, the Dorchester County Council was elected from the entire county, which meant no one governing the county had been elected from Hurlock, north county or south county. Every councilmember for almost 150 years had been from the City of Cambridge, because that was the population center of Dorchester County. No matter who ran, the person who won was the person with the largest number of votes.

One curiosity of the monument, which is located on private property on the west side of East New Market-Ellwood Road (Maryland Route 331/16) 0.4 miles south of Preston Road (Maryland Route 318), is that no one knows who commissioned it. The monument arrived on a truck from a stone-cutting concern in Georgia with the driver saying, “Where do you want it?” To this day, who ordered the monument is still a mystery.

It was called the “homeless stone” originally, because no one wanted the monument on their property. Ultimately the monument wound up alongside the road on the property of George C. Jones, leader of the North Dorchester Democratic Club and subsequent author of the book Revolution on the Eastern Shore, and one of the 10 men who worked to change the voting laws. The monument remains on the former Jones property, now inhabited by different owners.

“We have been working on the historical freedom shrine initiative since 2012,” Dr. Barham said. “Each year we’re progressing higher than expected, and today is a highlight of our efforts. We’ve never had a public official stop by to see this monument. In more than 31 years, no governor has ever been here, to this site.”

Governor Hogan told a story from his past that illustrated his relationship to the efforts of Dorchester’s “10 brave men.”

“No one here knows, I’m sure,” said the governor, “that in 1980, five years before this (monument being erected) I started a referendum job with a guy named Tim Malone. I was the head of the Young Republicans, he was the youngest member of the Democratic legislature and we were friends from high school, and in Prince George’s County we did the same thing.

“(In Prince George’s County) they had 11 county council members who were all elected at-large, and there was only one minority on the Price George’s council. We changed the constitution there — we had to go out and collect 10,000 signatures to get on the ballot — and the Democratic machine there were trying to keep all their cronies in. They didn’t want to have competitive elections in the county. We beat their machine with no money, just on shoe leather, and we changed the council to nine members all having to run by district. So five years before you guys were doing it here, I was doing the same thing! We ended up replacing just about the entire council, and I think we got five minority members elected — and one Republican.”

The governor read the inscription on the stone and greeted the group of about 30 county residents who came to take part in the governor’s visit.

“This is really impressive,” Governor Hogan said. “Senator Eckardt sent me a letter a while back saying that if I ever had the opportunity she would like to get me by here. And I think the Rev. Cephas (Hurlock Councilman) mentioned it to me last time I was in Hurlock. It’s great to meet some of the men who were originally involved in this from the beginning. It’s the same idea of fighting for one man-one vote, and making sure that people can be elected by district. Some of these things we’re still fighting for — free and fair elections — with all the gerrymandering that’s going on — letting elected officials pick their districts instead of letting the people pick their representatives. This monument, this effort, still has a lot of parallels today.”

There were comments from the crowd on hand on the location of the monument — on private property in a far corner of the county. Don Bradley, one of the men honored on the stone, gave the governor his idea of where the stone should be located.

“Where this monument ought to be,” Mr. Bradley said, “is where the brand new school (North Dorchester) is going up. It ought to be somewhere (where people can see it), rather than stuck out here where nobody knows what the heck it is. It wouldn’t take that much to move it. If you can spend 40 million dollars to build a school, we could move a monument there. To me it makes all the sense in the world.”

Paul Clipper is the editor of the Dorchester Banner. He can be reached at pclipper@newszap.com.

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