About the Exhibition

In 1962, Verda Freeman Welcome became the first Black woman elected to a State Senate. Seven years later, she became the legislative backer for the United States’ first ethnic commission, the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture (MCAAHC). Verda’s Place: An Homage to a Valiant Woman tells her story in celebration of the MCAAHC’s 50th Anniversary.

Verda F. Welcome was born in 1907, the third of sixteen children in a North Carolina farming family. Her passion for education, equality, and hard work were a direct result of her upbringing and served her well in life. Welcome was a Baltimore City school teacher for 11 years where she saw the impact of racial discrimination on her students and their parents firsthand. Leaving the classroom and moving into the community as an activist was critical in her formation as a politician. Welcome actively mobilized Black women to become informed voters and often tapped on them to run for office during her legislative career. Her “Valiant Women” would change the political tides of Baltimore, the State of Maryland, and the entire nation as Welcome was elected into Maryland’s House of Delegates (1958) and Senate (1962).

A Black woman legislator during the Civil Rights Movement, Verda Welcome faced difficulties from all sides. She persevered and enacted change in Maryland that resulted in laws providing equal pay for women, protection from racial discrimination, and increased gun control. Welcome passed away in 1990 in Baltimore, Maryland after spending 25 years in Maryland’s legislature.

Senator Verda Welcome remains a beloved figure in the State of Maryland and at the Banneker-Douglass Museum. This cafe-themed exhibition is a direct response to places where Welcome was unwelcome: the bars and nightclubs where the male legislators parlayed after leaving their offices. Through memorabilia, photographs, and archival documents, Verda’s Place encourages interaction and participation to move beyond the exhibition space and into the communities that visitors represent.

This catalogue will transport you through a virtual version of the exhibition.

Special thanks to the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture, the Banneker-Douglass Museum Foundation, Inc., the Beulah Davis Research Room, Earl S. Richardson Library at Morgan State University, and Mary Sue Welcome.

The Early Days

Verda Mae Freeman was born March 18, 1907 in Lake Lure, North Carolina to John Nuborn and Ella Freeman as the third of sixteen children. A farming family, her parents instilled in Verda the value of hard work and education that propelled her into a life of public service.

Verda Mae Freeman, Chicago, Illinois c. 1920's, Courtesy of Mary Sue Welcome

Verda began teaching at a North Carolina elementary school in 1926, but her mother’s 1928 passing inspired Verda to pursue her dreams of a college education. She received her high school diploma in Delaware in 1930 then moved to Baltimore, MD to attend Coppin Normal School (now Coppin State University).

While working summers at the Majestic Hotel in Ocean City, MD while attending school, Verda met her future husband, Henry C. Welcome. They were wed in December 1935.

Verda continued to teach and live in Baltimore’s Fourth District, coming face-to-face with the effects of racial discrimination on her students and their parents. These experiences would lead her to become active in local organizations working to improve Baltimore’s racial situation.

Verda Welcome with her husband Dr. Henry C. Welcome, c. 1930's, Courtesy of Mary Sue Welcome

(background image: Verda Welcome with daughter Mary Sue and husband Dr. Henry C. Welcome, Lisbon, Portugal c. 1930s, Courtesy of Mary Sue Welcome)

Community Organizations

In 1945, I retired from my first career of teaching and began my second profession--community activism."

Witnessing the racial inequalities faced by her students, their parents, and her Fourth District Baltimore community led Verda Welcome to join local organizations that were making a difference: Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and the National Council of Negro Women.

In her first elected position as president of the Northwest Improvement Association in 1946, Welcome targeted overcrowded buildings, poor sanitation, crime, racism, and poor medical facilities. A majority of the inequities African Americans experienced was due to the de jure racism of the day, which was compounded by a lack of adequate accountability from elected officials. Verda’s natural leadership skills and demand for equality compelled her to advocate for African Americans suffering in Baltimore’s Fourth District.

Women's Organizations

“...We women believed in organizational work during the off years. By doing that, we were able to develop a group of men and women who knew how to vote. We learned how to really participate in the political system.”

Women’s organizations were critical throughout Verda Welcome’s life and career. She credited Victorine Q. Adams’ 1946 creation of the Colored Women’s Democratic Club (later Woman Power, Inc. for mobilizing the Fourth District community by meeting with and educating community in election off years.

When Welcome decided to run for the House of Delegates, she mobilized local Black women and created the Valiant Women Democratic Club. Started as “Women for Welcome”, members were primarily housewives and professional women, may of whom were not politically active prior to joining the club. Their support was critical to her legislative career.

(background image: Members of the Valiant Women’s Democratic Club, c. 1950s-1960s, Courtesy of Mary Sue Welcome)

Running for Office: The House of Delegates

“By going up against that entrenched power, we paved the way for a new alignment of power in our city, state, and nation.”

“Honey, what about me?” was the question Verda Welcome asked her husband when searching for a Democratic candidate to represent Baltimore’s Fourth District in Maryland’s House of Delegates in 1958. After spending years working in community organizations and mobilizing Black women to vote in local elections, Verda Welcome realized she was the perfect candidate.

(left: Handbill for Verda Welcome's House of Delegates Campaign, 1958, Courtesy of the Maryland State Archives. SPECIAL COLLECTIONS (Joseph and Sylvan Kogan Collection) Kogan Printing Company Collection. Political Campaign Brochures Folder 4, MSA SC 5916-1-351 | right: Newspaper clipping from "The Baltimore Afro-American" discussing the Coalition Ticket's predicted success, Woman Power, Inc. Headquarters, Baltimore, Maryland, November 1, 1958, Verda Welcome Archives, Banneker-Douglass Museum)

Coalition Ticket

Verda Welcome ran for Maryland’s House of Delegates on a “coalition ticket”. “Coalition” is defined as “an alliance for combined action, especially a temporary alliance of political parties”. Reaching across Democratic and Republican lines, the all-Black coalition ticket was an effort to have Black people represent the majorly Black Fourth Legislative District of Baltimore, Maryland.

Senator Harry A. Cole led the ticket seeking re-election. Emery R. Cole, Howard Dixon, Daniel W. Spauling, and Bertha C. Winston ran as Republicans for the House of Delegates. Verda Welcome was the sole Democratic candidate on the ticket.

(image [left]: Newspaper clipping from "The Afro" discussing candidates running on the 4th District Coalition Ticket with a sample ballot below, Baltimore, Maryland, 1958, Verda Welcome Archives, Banneker-Douglass Museum)

Welcome’s political platforms highlighted her love for education and her concern for race and gender equality. She became the first Black woman Delegate, alongside Irma G. Dixon, to represent the Fourth District in 1958 on a coalition ticket. Welcome sponsored four civil rights-based bills during her House of Delegates tenure, but they all died in the Senate. Welcome was a Delegate until 1962. It was time to run for the Senate.

(background image: Verda Welcome with her "Welcome Wagon", 1958, Courtesy of Mary Sue Welcome)

State Senate

As her term in the House of Delegates ended, Verda was disappointed with her legislative impact. An upcoming reapportionment was set to drastically decrease Black voting power across the state and in Baltimore’s Fourth District. Seeking “the highest political seat in the Fourth District”, Verda Welcome ran for State Senator, backed by the Fourth District Democratic Organization (FDDO), a political club founded in part by Welcome. Her 1962 victory would make her the first Black woman in the country to hold this position.

(left to right: Campaign Mailer from Verda Welcome's campaign from the Maryland State Senate, 1962, Courtesy of the Maryland State Archives. SPECIAL COLLECTIONS (Joseph and Sylvan Kogan Collection) Kogan Printing Company Collection. Political Campaign Brochures Folder 4, MSA SC 5916-1-366); Campaign Poster from Verda Welcome's campaign for the Maryland State Senate, 1962, Courtesy of the Verda Welcome Archives, Beulah M. Davis Special Collections, Earl S. Richardson Library, Morgan State University, Baltimore, Maryland; Handbill for Verda Welcome's Campaign for the Maryland State Senate, 1966, Courtesy of Mary Sue Welcome)

Assassination Attempt

"I was scared, no doubt about it, but I...was fighting for my people, and there were black people in the struggle getting hurt a lot worse than I."

Five gunshots flew threw the air on April 10, 1964, leaving Senator Verda Welcome with gunshot wounds to her right heel and thigh.

Friends, community members, and organizations were upset by the attempt on the Senator’s life and sent their well wishes. Woman Power, Inc. hosted a major rally to fundraise a reward to help the police find the shooters.

Condolence Letter from the League of Women Voters of Baltimore, April 10, 1964, Verda Welcome Archives, Banneker-Douglass Museum

By May 1964, Ernest D. Young, a Fourth District member of the House of Delegates, and four community members were charged with leading the conspiracy to murder Senator Welcome. Young was acquitted; one co-conspirator was sent to a mental institution; the others were convicted.

Senator Welcome persevered. The assassination attempt encouraged her to continue her fight for equality.

(image [left]: Photograph of Senator Verda F. Welcome in her car after an assassination attempt, Baltimore, Maryland, April 10, 1964, Courtesy of the Baltimore News American Collection, Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries)

The 1964 assassination attempt on the Senator made it clear that Verda was doing critical work. Ever valiant, Senator Welcome persevered, championing civil rights causes of all forms and successfully sponsoring multiple groundbreaking bills. In 1969, Welcome introduced Senate Bill #185 which established the Maryland Commission for Afro-American History and Culture (now the Maryland Commission for African American History and Culture). The Commission was tasked with “examining the possibility of establishing a museum or center on Black history and culture” and it was the country’s first ethnic commission. Welcome became a Commissioner in 1976.

(background image: Handbill for Verda Welcome's campaign for the Maryland State Senate, 1966, Courtesy of the Maryland State Archives. SPECIAL COLLECTIONS (Joseph and Sylvan Kogan Collection) Kogan Printing Company Collection. Political Campaign Brochures Folder 4, MSA SC 5916-1-366)

Legislative Legacy

After twenty-four years in the legislature, Senator Verda Welcome was defeated in the 1982 election. The 1979 death of her husband left her grief stricken. She was growing older and her attendance in the General Assembly declined. Thus, Welcome greeted her retirement from Maryland’s General Assembly with open arms. She was immensely proud of her impact on her Baltimore community, the State of Maryland, and the United States overall. She counted the increased number of women and people of color in Maryland’s General Assembly and the civil rights legislation passed during her tenure among her highest achievements.

Verda Welcome remained an active member of her community after leaving the legislature. She became a MCAAHC Commissioner in 1976; and, by the time she departed the Senate, the Commission was in the process of saving the historic Mt. Moriah Church in Annapolis, MD. February 24, 1954, Mt. Moriah was dedicated as the Banneker-Douglass Museum. By 1985, Governor Harry Hughes appointed Verda Welcome and Rabbi Murray Saltzman as co-chairs of a committee tasked to develop the first Martin Luther King, Jr. Day while MCAAHC acted as liaison. The Banneker-Douglass Museum dedicated Verda Welcome Hall in March of that year and Welcome remained a MCAAHC Commissioner until 1987.

On April 22, 1990, Senator Verda Mae Freeman Welcome passed away in Baltimore, Maryland. She left behind an impactful legacy that continues to this day in the legislation she supported, the creation of the MCAAHC and BDM, and her example of a valiant woman.