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On jury’s suggestion, school renamed for former black school superintendent

January 16, 1997

CRISFIELD, Md. (AP) _ When H. DeWayne Whittington claimed he was fired as school superintendent because he is black, the jury did more than just give him his good name back. It suggested the district put that name on a school.

On Wednesday, the district did just that, renaming Crisfield Primary School the H. DeWayne Whittington Primary School.

``It means more to the black community than anything else,″ said the 65-year-old educator, who was awarded $920,000 by a jury in his race-discrimination lawsuit. He later settled with the school board for $835,000.

Added his attorney Andrew Freeman: ``Justice has been done and righteousness prevailed.″

For many of the 350 people who crowded into the school gymnasium, it was a fitting tribute on the 68th birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

But to Whittington and many school officials in Somerset County, on Maryland’s rural Eastern Shore, hard feelings prevailed.

No sign went up with Whittington’s name. Instead, the school district flashed an overhead projector with the school’s name change on a piece of stationery.

``I will forgive them,″ Whittington said. `` But I don’t think I will ever forget what they did to me.″

Whittington _ who in four decades worked his way up from high school class valedictorian to teacher, principal and finally superintendent _ was ousted in 1992 when the Somerset County Board of Education voted 3-2 to let his contract expire without explanation.

One board member told a reporter he ``did not want a nigger running the schools,″ according to Whittington’s 1992 lawsuit. He claimed another board member once asked a local artist to create a sign with KKK on it.

After losing his job, Whittington was so ashamed he couldn’t watch a video of a dinner held in his honor. He avoided people and cried at home.

He vividly recalls a visit to a middle school in his last days as superintendent. When he tried to correct the behavior of a black sixth grader, the child turned on Whittington.

``He said `You can’t tell me what to do, you lost your job.‴

Since then, two of the board members have been replaced by the first two blacks ever to serve on the board.

There is still no love lost between Whittington and his former colleagues. He hasn’t heard from them and he doesn’t want to.

His lawsuit polarized the county and Crisfield, a hamlet of 2,880 people some 20 miles from the Virginia line. The end of the lawsuit in June created, at best, an uneasy alliance.

White school administrators, who have known Whittington for nearly three decades, spoke cautiously Wednesday. They praised him as an educator.

But when asked whether they supported the jury’s unprovoked recommendation to rename the school, Gilbert Beety, supervisor of food service and maintenance, said, ``That’s not my call.″

``I can’t respond to that,″ said Herman Riggin, director of pupil services and special education.

Howard Ward, one of Whittington’s former students, said the renaming ``will help give blacks more hope. But the ones who are racist in their hearts, it’s not going to change them.″

During the ceremony, the Rev. Ronald C. Hemphill Jr. prayed that all who attend the school have Whittington’s dedication to education and refuse ``to be raped by the evils of oppression.″

Whittington himself remained pessimistic.

``I don’t think race relations have improved,″ he said.

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