Johns Hopkins Magazine -- November 1998
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On Loving They Neighbor

Wickwire (center) in the early '70s
In 1953, the year Chester Wickwire came to Johns Hopkins, Baltimore was a segregated city; black children and white children could not ride together on the merry-go-round at Gwynn Oak Park; their parents could not sit down together to watch a movie at the Northwood Theater. Johns Hopkins undergraduates, almost entirely white and male, had virtually nothing to do with the city's black residents.

Wickwire saw all of this, and immediately went about trying to change it. In 1958 he launched a tutoring program that took Hopkins students into the city's black neighborhoods. The Tutorial Project, as it came to be known, has flourished since the '60s, and this fall marks its 40th anniversary (see p. 35). The program is considered to be among the oldest of its kind in the nation, and Wickwire is pleased by the impact it has had on Hopkins undergraduates over the years. "There were a number of people whose lives changed. They started voting differently. Many are now lawyers in public defenders' offices, or judges," he told me with satisfaction, during a recent visit to his Riderwood home.

Though retired from Hopkins since 1984, Chester Wickwire remains a campus legend--and, even at 84, active in the same kinds of social causes that he championed during his three decades as university chaplain. Just this morning he met to talk with INS officials about ensuring decent treatment for the Eastern Shore's migrant workers. Last month found him on the streets of Baltimore talking to Korean storeowners. As chairman of the Maryland Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, he's been charged with looking at how Korean-Americans are treated by the police and the courts.

I shouldn't be surprised that Rev. Wickwire is still making a difference. After all, this is the same man who nearly mortgaged his house in 1958 to bring jazz greats like Dave Brubeck and Maynard Ferguson to Baltimore for one of the city's first integrated concerts; who in 1963 marched to protest the segregation of Gwynn Oak Park and was twice arrested; who set off a wave of controversy--and a cross burning by the Ku Klux Klan--after inviting activist Bayard Rustin to Homewood in the late '60s; who took Duke Ellington out for coffee at the Blue Jay Restaurant after his Shriver Hall concert, only to have him refused service; who, in the wake of Baltimore's '68 riots, started a Free University aimed in part at giving white suburbanites insights into the black experience.

Over the decades, Chester Wickwire has had his critics. During the tumultuous Vietnam War years, especially, there were those who questioned why a religious leader should get "mixed up" in social and political causes. "My feeling is that you don't separate religion and social action," Wickwire told this magazine in February 1970. "Religion is social action. The two form a joint enterprise. There is a certain Old Testament emphasis in which one relates to his neighbor. This is how to show the love of God."

Sue De Pasquale, Editor