Howard B. Silverberg, a former merchant mariner and labor organizer who later became a Southeast Baltimore neighborhood activist, died May 2003 from complications of pneumonia at University of Maryland Medical Center. The Washington Hill resident was 86.
A board member and officer of the Southeast Community Association for nearly 30 years, he doggedly fought expansion plans for Johns Hopkins Hospital, hazardous waste at the now-closed Monument Street Landfill and a 1970s proposal for a prison ship to be anchored in the harbor. He also marched in peace demonstrations and protested for racial equality.
Born in Winston-Salem, N.C., he moved with his parents to Brooklyn, N.Y. In 1942, he joined the merchant marine and sailed on 24 voyages while a member of the National Maritime Union. He also joined New York's Young Communist League, a membership that got him blacklisted from the merchant marine in the late 1940s. He moved to Baltimore and became a Bethlehem Steel Corp. laborer and labor organizer.
In 1946, he married Regina Rosen. The couple was present at Druid Hill Park on July 11, 1948, for an interracial tennis match planned to test city parks' regulations regarding racial segregation. Mrs. Silverberg was arrested that day while Mr. Silverberg participated in the protest during the tennis game.
"He was a kind, gentle soul," said Mitzi Swan, who was also arrested there. "I'd see him on picket lines and civil rights and open housing events."
Because of his membership in the Communist Party, he was subpoenaed to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Asked to give names of people associated with the Communist movement, Mr. Silverberg invoked his Fifth Amendment right and declined to answer. He remained a member of the Communist Party USA.
He lost his job at Sparrows Point -- he was also kicked out of a bowling league -- and became a Singer sewing machine salesman. He later sold insurance. Mr. Silverberg in recent years was a messenger for Attorney Services Inc., driving between law firms in the Baltimore area.
In a City Paper article published last year, he looked back on his experiences in the McCarthy era of the 1950s, saying, "I lost a couple jobs. ... I just kept myself going."
Mr. Silverberg moved to East Baltimore Street about 25 years ago and joined the neighborhood's Washington Hill Cooperative Housing Board and Citizens for Washington Hill, as well as the Southeast Community Organization, where he was a former president.
Howard was involved in most every aspect of redevelopment in Southeast Baltimore," said Betty Hyatt, a longtime Southeast activist. "He was a wonderful speaker and would talk eloquently without written notes. He always wanted the little man to be heard."
In 1983, he spent $900 in a run for the City Council. In a Sun article, he said he was "raising issues instead of dollars." He listed as his targets then-Councilman Dominic "Mimi" DiPietro, President Ronald Reagan's economics and the Monument Street landfill. He ran ninth in the race among a dozen candidates for the 1st District's three seats.
"He was an inspirational individual. He was passionately involved in working in the community and with a concern for social justice," said Stan Markowitz, a SECO board officer. "He never quit. He was dogged in the best sense. He loved life and never got cynical."
"He was a thoughtful man who gave consideration to issues," said Mary Roby, an Upper Fells Point resident. "At SECO, when a discussion got out of hand, he had the ability to ... bring people back to basics."
After nearly 60 years of protests, his final appearance was at a peace demonstration in March at War Memorial Plaza.
"He was humble and committed to the poor and working-class people. He organized hard in the peace movement. He never wanted recognition," said Tina Wheeler, the Communist Party's district organizer for Maryland.
Supported Communist Party call
Anti Bush statement
In May 1995 the Communist Party USA newspaper Peoples Weekly World published a May Day supplement. Included was an anti Bush/Quayle statement signed by several Maryland supporters of the party, including Howard Silverberg.
Communist Party Labor Day call
Of the more than 100 endorsers listed, almost all were identified members of the Communist Party USA.
Howard Silverberg, Baltimore, was on the list.
Endorsed Communist Party Call
On March 30 2002 the Communist Party USA paper People’s Weekly World called for a national holiday in honor of late Farm Workers Union leader Cesar Chavez. The article was followed by a long list of endorsersincluding Howard Silverberg, Almost all endorsers were confirmed members of the Communist Party USA.
People's Weekly World Article on Silverberg's Life and Death, 7/14/2003
The CP's newspaper, the People's Weekly World, had a long article about the life and recent death of a leading member of the Communist Party of Maryland (in Baltimore), Howard B. Silverberg. Other people mentioned in this article can be found at the site for the Communist Party of Maryland.
Some highlight information on Silverberg is as follows:
- - "a leader of the Communist Party of Maryland"
- - Born: Winston- Salem, N.C., 1917
- - Raised in Brooklyn, NY "where he joined the Young Communist League (YCL), the original one.
- - During WW2, "he was a merchant seaman, and active member of the National Maritime Union (NMU)
- - Moved to Baltimore after the war
- - Married Regina H. Rosen.
- - "They participated in the legendary July 11, 1948, interracial tennis match at Druid Hill Park to protest segregation.."
- - "refusing to 'rat on' his comrades when hauled before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC) (actually the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HCUA) during the 1950s, a stand that cost him his job as a Sparrows point steelworker."
- - "Later he was active in the Baltimore Committee to Free Angela Davis
- - "active in the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (NAARPR) and
- - active in the anti-Vietnam war movement.
- - Member of the executive board of Citizens for Washington Hill, a neighborhood preservation organization
- - member of the executive board of Jobs With Peace (JWP)
- - Second wife Jeanne Dresser-Silverberg, married about 1975
- - Brother-in-law of second wife was Michael Dresser
- - Niece, Ruth Caley
- - Died May 27, 2003 at age 86
Maryland CP memorial
The PWW May 1, 2004 remembered several late members of the Maryland Communist Party.
- Balltimore Sun, Howard B. Silverberg, 86, merchant mariner, neighborhood activistMay 30, 2003|By Jacques Kelly
- PWW, May Day Supplement May 2, 1992
- PWW May Day supplement May 2, 1992
- People's Weekly World Sep 2 1995 p 14