The Charles County Branch of the NAACP held its annual Hall of Fame Banquet on Saturday at Middleton Hall, honoring black law enforcement pioneers in addition to the 2018 class of inductees.
A total of 10 members received awards, eight earning branch certificates and two garnering community honors. The group then recognized 24 sworn officers and five correctional officers, all but one of whom were retired or deceased. Third Vice President Wanda Wills Woodland served as mistress of ceremonies, assisted by staff member Allison Atiemo. NAACP President Janice Wilson shared remarks throughout the ceremony and presented each recipient with their award.
“This is a feel-good event,” Wilson said. “Not only to honor our branch members, but the many law enforcement officers, police officers and correctional officers, men and women who have served in the Charles County community.”
The idea to expand the ceremony to include African-American law enforcement came from Hall of Fame Committee member Matt Nolan Wills, who coordinated with the NAACP and the Charles County Sheriff’s Office to track down worthy candidates. Nearly all of the honorees were in attendance or represented by relatives, and each family received a certificate of recognition from Wilson and Sheriff Troy Berry (D).
“They were impressive, and they were role models,” Wills said of the officers. “You don’t realize how many young men and women looked up to you.”
After Woodland’s opening remarks, the audience of a couple hundred residents joined in a rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” followed by a performance from Francis D. Clark, also known as DJ Old Skuul. Chef Kendall Selby then treated the attendees to a meal, and the presentation of awards got underway.
The eight branch winners came from a variety of backgrounds and fields, but shared a commitment to duty and service to the community. Each was given an opportunity to share a few words about their journey and pose for a photo with Wilson and her team. Robin Walthour kicked off the slate of new inductees, a 13-year member of the Charles County branch who has served as secretary, Freedom Fund chair and Membership chair. She’s also been in charge of the Martin Luther King Jr. Prayer Breakfast Celebration for the past decade.
Del. Edith Patterson (D-Charles) came next, though she arrived late from a meeting and son Robert Patterson accepted the award on her behalf. Besides serving as the chair of the Charles County state legislative delegation, Patterson is the second vice president of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland and was the first African-American woman on the Charles County Board of Commissioners.
Roy Farrar Sr. owned the Blue Jay Motel and the Blue Bird Inn, some of the only establishments on the east coast to allow minorities to stay. Farrar hosted the likes of James Brown, Patti Labelle and Althea Gibson when they were in the Washington, D.C., area. Now deceased, Farrar was a member of the NAACP since the 1950s. Arthur Ellis followed the Farrar family to the podium, a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force who rose to chief of telecommunications. Injuries ended Ellis’ military service, but he returned to Maryland and became a certified public accountant. He and wife Rosalind have raised two highly successful children, one a CPA like her father and the other a Meyerhoff Scholar at University of Maryland Baltimore County.
“Our work is never done because we have children, we have grandchildren,” Ellis said. “So we cannot rest on our laurels, we have to continue to fight, we have to continue to work, we have to continue to pursue opportunities. Not just for me, not just for you, but for our children and our grandchildren.”
Tanya Barnett has provided thousands of books through her company Forever Free Books and also hosts her own talk show. She has spoke at NAACP National Conventions and Congressional Black Causes conventions about helping African Americans navigate entrepreneurship, and her JobSource Speaker Series appearance in January was detailed in this newspaper. After Barnett came Delores Walls, a 10-year member of the branch who served as secretary and communications chair. She gave a shoutout to her mother Mary Butler as she received her award.
“You heard in my bio, I’m the oldest of 10 [children] so she gets all the accolades,” Walls said.
Rose Short is a NAACP Silver Life Membership award winner, and was the campaign manager for former commissioners’ vice president Reuben Collins. She and Cecelia Spinks, one of the first African-American candy stripers at Physicians Memorial Hospital — now the University of Maryland Charles Regional Medical Center — rounded out the branch award winners. Carolyn West and Joe Madison Jr. received the pair of community awards, for 43 years at the sheriff’s office and getting six children through college, respectively.
The program closed with a steady stream of former officers or their families proceeding to the podium to discuss their careers and be recognized for achievement in law enforcement. After each came and went, Berry fittingly gave final words on the occasion.
“I know you did this with some blood, some sweat and some tears to move the Charles County Sheriff’s Office forward,” Berry said. “We knew that there was some divide socially, economically and also racially, and the dedication that you laid out allowed the footprint to move forward in Charles County. It allowed me to wear the uniform and hold the position I have, and I’m honored and grateful for your sacrifice.”