The Fred Myron Webber Page

Well …. so much for blogging every day. It turned out to be more like one week. :( Let’s blame it on the time of the year, shall we?

I’ve been wanting to write more about my great-uncle Fred M. Webber but ran out of steam some time back. As I looked back at my previous posts about him, I decided to give him his own landing page. As I write other pieces about him, I’ll link them to his page.

I hope you will visit his page and get to know Uncle Fred along with me. His story is timely as our nation continues to struggle with issues of justice and civil rights.

BS Segregation Baltimore Miller Bros.jpg

Fred M. Webber Comments on Regents’ Prayer Decision: “Not a Great Tragedy”

BS Segregation Baltimore Miller Bros.jpg

Fred M. Webber 1962

It is surprising how frequently the news today echoes the news of the 1960s. As one example, courts in 2014 are hearing cases concerning prayer in public meetings and whether a Bible curriculum written by the conservative Christian and owner of Hobby Lobby can be taught in public schools. On June 25, 1962, the Supreme Court delivered a decision on Engel v Vitale, a case involving a state-written prayer for use in the public schools in New York.

Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country.

“As supervisors of the state’s public education under New York law, the Board of Regents wrote this classroom prayer in 1951. Formal religion has no place in public schools, they said, but ‘teaching our children, as set forth in the Declaration of Independence, that Almighty God is their Creator’ would give the ‘best security’ in dangerous days. They recommended their prayer to local school boards; some accepted it, including the board in New Hyde Park, which voted in 1958 for the prayer to open each school day.” (1)

The parents of ten students in the Hyde Park school system objected and asked a New York court to stop the use of the prayer. The state court upheld the use of what became known as the Regents’ Prayer in the schools. In 1961, the Supreme Court accepted Engel v Vitale for review. And on June 25, 1962, the Supreme Court reversed the state court’s decision, saying that it violated the First Amendment’s ban against the establishment of religion. The court ruled that “any state-sponsored prayer, even if it is denominationally-neutral, represented an unconstitutional effort to promote religion and an infringement of the wall of separation that the Constitution set up between church and state.” (2)

As one can imagine, the decision sparked a great controversy, with a number of prominent church leaders and politicians speaking out against the decision.

President Kennedy was asked about the decision during a press conference on June 27, 1962:

And later that day, Fred M. Webber, General Presbyter of the Presbytery of Baltimore, spoke briefly at a celebration of the the 110th anniversary of the founding of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Baltimore. Fred M. Webber addressed some of his comments to the Supreme Court decision and recommended that people “read and heed” what President Kennedy had to say. He is quoted as saying:

“I find it a little difficult to think that the striking down of that prayer is a great tragedy.”(3)

1962.06.28.Newspaper Prayer Comments

1962.06.28.Newspaper Prayer Comments 2

I’m with you, Uncle Fred.

***
If you would like to read more about Fred M. Webber, click the Fred Myron Webber tag/link at the bottom of this post.

Sources:
1. “The Warren Court, 1953-1969.” The Supreme Court Historical Society. http://www.supremecourthistory.org/history-of-the-court/history-of-the-court-2/the-warren-court-1953-1969. (June 23, 2014).
2.  ”Religion in Public Schools: Engel v Vitale.” Digital History. http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtID=3&psid=1197. (June 23, 2014).
3. “Cleric Says Court Ruling Is Not ‘A Great Tragedy’.”The Baltimore Sun.” JUne 28, 1962. Pg. 48.

3 Rabbis, a Priest, and a Presbyterian Minister …

walked into the Mandell and Ballow deli in Baltimore on February 7, 1962.

But they didn’t walk into Miller Bros. restaurant that day.

The group also included Dr. Furman Templeton, director of the Urban League in Baltimore – an African-American. They were refused entrance to the segregated restaurant.

After learning that my great uncle Fred M. Webber had participated in the 1963 March on Washington, I immediately started searching the internet to see what else I could find. I was excited by a link to Google Books.

The link took me to page 56 of Glimpses of Jewish Baltimore by Gilbert Sandler. Curious, I thought, since Fred wasn’t Jewish, but there was Fred M. Webber’s name on the first page of the chapter titled “Demonstrators: Baltimore Rabbis Confront Segregation.” And scrolling down to page 57 was a picture of Fred M. Webber! (The picture immediately below is the one referenced in the book, but does not appear in the book.)

BS Segregation Baltimore Miller Bros.jpg

Clergy standing outside Miller Brothers Restaurant after being refused entrance

The chapter begins:  ”Awakening on the morning of February 8, 1962, the Jews of Baltimore were stunned to see in their morning newspaper, a two-column picture that, for the Baltimore Jewish community, would close one era and open another. The picture would please some, disturb others and become the talk of the synagogue circuit.

The caption beneath the picture described the event depicted: Demonstrators: Five clergy and the Urban League director stand outside segregated restaurant that refused to serve them. They are from left: Rabbi Abraham Shaw, Rev. Fred M. Webber, Rev. Joseph Connelly, Rabbi Morris Lieberman, Rabbi Abraham Shusterman, and Dr. Furman Templeton.” (1)

In the weeks preceding the clergy protest, several restaurants in Baltimore had been picketed by biracial groups of college students who had previously been refused service. As reported in the Baltimore Sun newspaper, the clergy randomly selected two restaurants known to be segregated and called to inform them that they were coming – to give the restaurants “every advantage.” The clergy also notified the press. The protest was timed to coincide with the opening of the Maryland General Assembly, which was to consider public accommodations legislation that would desegregate all restaurants and hotels.

Although the group was seated at Mandell and Ballow and stayed for a half-hour lunch, the restaurant’s comptroller explained that the group was seated out of deference to the clergy and that the restaurant would remain segregated until passage of the public accommodations legislation. (2)

1962.02.08 Fred M. Webber newwspaper 1

1962.02.08 Fred M. Webber newspaper 2

I’m sure I read another source (but I can’t find it now!) that said that the clergy wanted to pay a visit to one Jewish restaurant as part of their protest. Mandell and Ballow fit the bill.

Shortly before the clergy protest in early February, Mandell and Ballow deli had experienced an embarrassing incident in which a “group of Israeli sailors, all originally of Yemenite extraction, had gone to the deli and been denied service because of their dark skin.” Once the manager learned the men were foreign Jews, they received apologies and were seated. (3)

Following the incident with the dark-skinned sailors, the deli was picketed by a youthful labor Zionist group and, the following week, the Baltimore Board of Rabbis urged Jews not to patronize restaurants that discriminated.

I’m guessing the deli management didn’t want any more bad publicity the day Fred Webber and his clergy colleagues showed up for lunch.

While researching this, I found a wonderful website with many personal stories told by civil rights activists in the south. Rosalyn Garfeld Lang picketed Mandell and Ballow and shared this and other stories. Check out http://crmvet.org/.

To view a photo of the clergy standing outside Mandell and Ballow deli that day, search for Glimpses of Jewish Baltimore and include Fred M. Webber in your search terms.

If you would like to read more about Fred M. Webber, click the Fred Myron Webber tag/link at the bottom of this post.

(1) Sandler, Gilbert. Glimpses of Jewish Baltimore. Charleston, SC: The History Press,
2012.
(2) Nordlinger, Stephen E. “Clergymen Demonstrate Against Bias.” The Sun. Feb. 8, 1962.
(3) Lang, Rosalyn Garfeld. “A Baltimore Girl Sits In.” http://crmvet.org/nars/balt61.htm
(June 15, 2014).