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Verda Welcome: 1st African-American State Senator

Verda Welcome was a Maryland politician. Welcome was the first black woman to be elected to a state senate. She survived an assassination attempt in 1964.
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Verda Welcome was a teacher, civil rights leader, and the first African-American woman elected to a state senate in the United States. She was first elected to the Maryland House of Delegates in 1958, representing the Fourth District of Baltimore. In 1962 she was elected the Maryland State Senate and served for two decades.

The Baltimore Afro-American covered her surprise victory in their November 15th, 1958 edition with an article by Moses Newson. Below is an excerpt from his piece.

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A dazzling new personality burst into the Maryland political picture Tuesday as Mrs. Verda Welcome becomes the first colored woman elected to the Maryland Legislature on her own.

Also elected was Mrs. Irma Dixon, but the convincing manner in which Mrs. Welcome independently earned her victory makes it by far the more remarkable and significant.

Both women are Democrats.

Both ran for the House of Delegates from the 4th District of Baltimore. Both led the vote parade in the District. Mrs. Dixon leading by 514 votes, 16,544 to 16,040.

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As telephone calls continued to bring new congratulations on Thursday, she said:

“I am deeply grateful to all the people who worked for my nomination in the primary and who worked even harder for my election.

What I want to do now is make a good delegate. That is my one desire.”

Baltimore Afro-American / Moses Newson / November 15th, 1958
Maryland state senator Verda Welcome, shows where two bullets grazed her in a failed assassination attempt earlier April 10, 1964
Maryland state senator Verda Welcome, shows where two bullets grazed her in a failed assassination attempt earlier April 10, 1964. Source: Flickr user Washington Area Spark

1964 Political Assassination Attempt

In 1964, a horrific assassination attempt nearly took her life. On April 10th of that year, she was slightly wounded when five shots came through her car as she arrived home near midnight. Baltimore Chief Inspector George Murphy said in a follow-up interview with The Baltimore Sun that they were seeking a “Negro in his mid-20s who tried to force his way into the senator’s home two weeks ago.”

Welcome narrowly escaped death as she opened her car door. She forgot some posters in her back seat, reaching over to retrieve them, that’s when the shots rang out near her 2100-block of Liberty Heights avenue home.

Clearly this was a hit job. And, as it turned out, a nasty political hit job.

Trial and Conviction of Conspirators

The following month further evidence came to light, and it turned out to be a political rival who put out the hit. Below is a piece from The New York Times printed on May 9th, 1964.

Ernest D. Young, a member of the Maryland General Assembly, was charged today in connection with two attempts to murder State Senator Verda Welcome.

The two Negro Democrats are political rivals.

The indictment against Mr. Young, a 36-year-old lawyer, charges he did “hire and command” four other men to attempt to murder Mrs. Welcome.

The four others also arrested in connection with the incidents are Charles Hall, 30, of Little Rock, Ark.; and Harold T. Williams, 67; James McCall, 38, and Curtis King, 44, all of Baltimore. They were indicted on conspiracy charges.

The New York Times / May 9th, 1964

Hall was sentenced to 15 years for his role in the assassination attempt. Williams was freed under a three-year suspended term for having merely accompanied the defendants to the scene and not taking part in the plot. McCall was given 16 years for his role. King was convicted as the gunman and sentenced to 25 years.

Political rival Ernest Young was acquitted and set free.

A Baltimore Community Hero

She was most certainly a celebrated hero in her community, performing the duties of civic leader, not to mention the sometimes mundane tasks of a politician in the 1950s like the image below, crowning the queen of the annual Maryland Debutante Ball. In December 1959, the lucky debutante being crowned by Welcome was Josita Hair.

REFERENCE PHOTOGRAPH ONLY Henderson Collection, Box 01.08. Photographs by Paul Henderson 4 in x 5 in black and white negative

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