More on Bell v. Maryland

I wrote in yesterday’s paper about the 45th anniversary of the Court of Appeals throwing out the convictions of 12 students, including Chief Judge Robert M. Bell, for participating in a sit-in at Hooper’s Restaurant.

I couldn’t include all of the great details I collected from all of the people I interviewed, particularly the chief judge, so please enjoy these bite-sized nuggets:

  • The case was called Bell v. Maryland simply because the defendants were listed alphabetically by last name.
  • Why Hooper’s Restaurant? “It was open,” Bell said, laughing. The group of students had been picketing downtown for an hour, he said, and Hooper’s was the only establishment with its doors open, allowing them to go inside for the sit-in.
  • G. Carroll Hooper, the restaurant’s owner, testified in court that half of his employees were black and “thought as much of them as I did the white employees,” according to Justice William O. Douglas’ concurring opinion. (Scroll down to page 378 U.S. 245 here.) Hooper testified the segregation in his restaurant was not institutional but reflected the customers’ desires. “As long as my customers were deciding who they want to eat with – I’m at the mercy of my customers,” he said. “If they fail to come in, these people are not paying my expenses, and my bills.”
  • Bell said Morgan State College required participating high school students to have permission from their parents, have money to pay for a meal if they were served and not become violent under any circumstances. Bell met two of the three requirements: he didn’t tell his mother. “She would not have given me permission,” he said, not because she opposed the sit-ins but because she would have worried how it affected his future education opportunities.
  • Bell went on to Harvard Law School, where he became a celebrity among his fellow students. Bill Reynolds, who was a year behind Bell, recalled classmates whispering “That’s Bob Bell of Bell v. Maryland” when the future chief judge walked by.