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Subject: Clarence W. Blount, Longtime Maryland Senator

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Date Posted: April 14, 2003 4:10:10 EDT

Clarence W. Blount, who served 31 years in the Maryland Senate and was one of the state's most influential legislators, has died.

He was 81.

Blount, who chose not to run for re-election last year, died Saturday of complications from a stroke.

The son of a North Carolina sharecropper entered the Senate in 1971 and became the Senate's first black majority leader in 1983.

"Senator Blount was a pioneer among black politicians in Baltimore City and the state of Maryland," said Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat.

``He set such a high standard of achievement. He showed that politics actually worked. He didn't have the kind of sordid image that some politicians have. He came very well accomplished in his civilian life and was able to do great things later on,'' Rawlings said.

Blount's bearing and background--educator, decorated war veteran--led his colleagues to call him ``the conscience of the Senate.''

``He had a very calming influence on the Senate,'' said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. ``He was a very gentle man who would not get angry, would not raise his voice--and would not stop talking on occasion. ... He had as much if not more influence on my life than anybody other than my parents.''

Blount's political strength lay in his ability to make, and keep, friends in high places, including the governor's office. That loyalty resulted in money for the causes he cared about--mostly education.

While some in the black community criticized him over the years for playing too nice within the white power structure of Annapolis, Blount refused to change course.

``I just happen to believe that I can help the people I represent more by being a member of the club, in the inner office, sitting at the table of power,'' he said in a 1981 interview with the Evening Sun. ``I'm an upstanding, dues-paying member of the club, and I'm damn successful at it.''

Blount was born in South Creek, N.C., one of four children of Lottie and Charles Johnson Blount Sr. His father worked on a tobacco plantation there.

As a child, Blount helped his father on the farm, feeding chickens and working in the fields. Because he had no shoes, he couldn't attend school.

Blount's mother died when he was 5 years old. A few years later the family moved to Baltimore. He was a tall, gangly 10-year-old when he first went to school, unable to read or count on his fingers. He credited dedicated teachers with helping him catch up. At 21, he graduated from Frederick Douglass High School, hiding his age from his peers.

A month after entering what was then Morgan State College, Blount was drafted into a segregated Army to fight in World War II. He saw action in Italy as a member of the 92nd Infantry in the all-black Buffalo Division, earning a battlefield commission for removing mines from a river passage.

In a radio interview last year, Blount described how white officers tried to enforce Jim Crow overseas.

``Some of the great fights of my life were in the service,'' he said. ``While we were fighting supposedly the Germans, I fight Americans just to go into a restaurant in Italy and sit down and eat. Because we couldn't do that in the United States, so they carried the same thing over there. Well, if I was going to die, I'm going to die in this restaurant.''

In office, Blount was instrumental in the contentious 1997 ``state takeover'' of the Baltimore City school system, delivering an impassioned speech minutes before a crucial vote on behalf of legislation that put millions of dollars into the school system in return for management reforms and a state role in running the system.

Blount is survived by his wife, of Pikesville; a son, Michael C. Blount of Baltimore; a stepson, Mark Chisom of Baltimore; and six grandchildren. He was preceded in death by a stepson, Tipper Chisom.

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