The recent celebration of Martin Luther King Day brought to mind the uproar in Annapolis following his assassination and the impact it had on our area.
As I explain in my recently published book, Memoirs of a Main Street Boy: Growing up in America’s Ancient City, at the time I was working as an editor for Kiplinger’s Magazine in Washington, D.C. The day after King’s shooting, walking back to the Kiplinger building on H Street after a long lunch at the National Press Club, I noticed a jeweler hurriedly pulling down his safety gate to lock up his store. Finding this strange in mid-afternoon, I asked him if everything was okay. He pointed behind me, exclaiming “Look!”
I turned to see smoke rising over the downtown buildings. Washington was on fire, and rioters would not let firefighters near the infernos. Baltimore, as did many American cities, also suffered riots and fires.
The incendiary incidents began spilling over to Annapolis, when some young black men, egged on by outsiders, began to gather for an act of rebellion.
Into this fray stepped my friend and high school teammate, Roger “Pip” Moyer, Annapolis’ young mayor. As the only white basketball star who played on some black teams, Pip had street cred with those rebellious black youths.
For support, Pip turned to another local sports star, his black friend, Joseph “Zastrow” Simms, but first he had to get “Zas” out of jail, where he landed after some illegal shenanigans. With the help of then Governor Spiro Agnew, Pip got Zastrow released from prison, and together they walked the streets of what was known as “Annapolis Harlem,” calming the agitated young men and even putting on a dance, at which 800 kids turned up.
So, while Washington and Baltimore burned, Annapolis danced.
This story is wonderfully depicted in the documentary “Pip & Zastrow, An American Friendship,” which can be seen on YouTube.
After this incident, Zastrow Simms turned his life around, becoming an upstanding leader in the community and picking up a new nickname, “Godfather of Annapolis.”
Another thing I’ll never forget on the day of the Washington riots was driving home in unbelievable traffic on the beltway (that day the usual 45-minute drive home took four hours). On the beltway, I witnessed the strangest sight: a line of tanks heading in the other direction toward Washington! The White House had ordered the military occupation of Washington.
Annapolis needed no armor to keep the peace, thanks to Pip and Zastrow. Their legend was more than an “American Friendship”; I believe it was a defining step toward more racial harmony in Annapolis.