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