I caught the obituary for Walter Sondheim Jr in Friday’s Post, but I was just reminded of it by an entry in a weekly email newsletter that I get called This Is True. True’s Publisher, Randy Cassingham, runs a weekly bit at the end of it which he calls his “honorary unsubscribe,” where he pays homage to recent deaths of people who he thinks aren’t getting the press they deserve in their passing. This week’s is Mr Sondheim, who I happily think he’s a bit wrong about not getting enough attention. Friday’s Post obit is of decent size and there’s a New York Times piece as well.
All the obits contain a lot of talk about Mr Sondheim’s role in integrating Baltimore, and it’s a good reminder of how far we’ve come in not a lot of time. It’s easy to forget that it wasn’t so long ago we had two very distinct and very paths laid out in our society. I remember as a kid in the late 70s being in a Sears in Coral Gables and my father pointing out to me the spot on the wall above the two water fountains where you could see there used to be something attached to the wall. The something being plaques that said “Whites” and “Coloreds,” and which my father clearly remembered, since he’d been chased off as a child for drinking from the “colored” fountain. It’s been almost thirty years since he told me that story, which is farther in the past for me than it was for him when he relayed it.
Those fifty years combined can seem like a lot when you spend most of your day thinking how far off next month’s vacation is, but they shoot by quick. Cassingham’s piece has a fun quote that’s not in the Post or Times obit. When the MD school board president of the time threatened to overturn Sondheim’s integration after the fact, Sondheim told him “that he could come to Baltimore and try to unscramble the egg that we had scrambled if he wanted to.” A great quip, in my book, and a great man.
Also of note to those of us in the area is all the work Sondheim did towards the Inner Harbor revitalization. School integration in Baltimore may not have impacted any of us reading this, but if you’ve gone to an Orioles game or the Baltimore Aquarium you’ve been a beneficiary of his efforts as well. Personally I find Baltimore delightful, for all its flaws, and I’ve considered living there on many an occasion. I’m more drawn to Fells Point than Inner Harbor, but it’s not hard for me to understand why someone would want to spend their retirement working to improve the fortunes of Charm City. Thanks, Mr Sondheim, for both the product of your hard work and the inspiration.
This post appeared in its original form at DC Metblogs