Tough, wise and fearless, Doris Jean Cammack Spencer
, 63, is perfect for the job.Having successfully battled bigotry and injustice for decades in the federal government, Spencer
is experienced, confident and determined to win.Early in life, she
looked the fearsome, twin barriers of racial prejudice and sexual discrimination squarely in the eye, and not only survived, but thrived.Her
countless achievements testify to her
endurance, intelligence and integrity.
"I met every goal I ever set for myself," Spencer
says firmly, "despite obstacles that were put before me and I never shied away from standing up for my principles."
In 1958 and 1988, she
walked off federal jobs in information technology to protest prejudicial or unfair labor practices.However, her
technical skills were so valuable, her
superiors asked her
back each time.
At the U.S. Maritime
Administration in 1979, Spencer
led a class action lawsuit, charging the agency with "race and sex discrimination."She
17 ensuing years at the agency, she
was sent to graduate school, trained for Senior Executive Service, and promoted to the Directorate level. Through her work with the National Women's Political Caucus in the mid- 1970's, Spencer served on the Caucus's team that was responsible for conducting interviews of incoming Cabinet Secretaries and recommending appointees to former President Jimmy Carter's transition team.When Carter "back-pedaled on some campaign promises," Spencer actually walked out on the President of the United States!
"I don't mind people, once they get into a position, realizing they can't do what they thought they could, but you need to tell people," she
said emphatically."All you have is your word!"Even after this major breach of protocol, Spencer
said smiling, "I was invited back to the White House."
In a lifetime of challenge and achievement, becoming "the first African- American chair" of the Democratic Party in Calvert is, for Spencer
, just one of many "firsts."But for this narrow, peninsular county, her
powerful presence is bound to reverberate.
African Americans account for roughly 13%* of Calvert's 87,000** residents, and 28% of Maryland's population.If national polls hold here, 72%*** of the registered voters among them are firmly in the Democratic camp; ninety percent of African American voters picked Democrat Al Gore in the 2000 election. ("And maybe two blacks show up for an evening Democratic Club [in Calvert]!"Spencer
declares hotly."That's insane!")
Providing all eligible African Americans register in Calvert County, Maryland, as many as 5,000 black, Democratic votes could be counted here in the 2004 Presidential Election.Non concerned can forget 2000, when the race for the White House was decided by 537 popular votes in Florida, and nationally by five Electoral College votes**** ("hanging chads" not- withstanding)?
All of which means the Democratic leadership in Calvert -- and counties nationwide -- will focus hard on voter registration drives among African Americans in the coming months.At a local Democratic Club meeting last year, Spencer
colleagues: "I'm here as the party chair, a black, and I don't see any of me?Something's wrong with this picture!I know there are black Democrats [in Calvert]," she
commanded, "find them!" Spencer
intends to open discussion on subjects like racism in Calvert, long obscured by some ancient, complicit custom between blacks and whites to (at least publicly) view race relations through a sort of Southern Maryland-simulated gentility."There are issues, like racism in the county, that are not being addressed, and I think it's time," she
says evenly."I'll bring things up that others would not."
If such frank comments trouble some Calvert Democrats, or the Central Committee
who elected her
"I stand on principle," Spencer
says, with characteristic directness."I am a proud, African-American woman.Deal with it!I've earned that right."
Yet, at that same time, Spencer
is "a Democrat through & through and always will be.Democrats do care, without question, about working class people.They care about things that are important to me as an African American, a woman, a grandmother, and that's a system that's fair to everybody, not just to a select few." Spencer
knows first hand about systems that are unfair, having grown up poor and black in Southeast Washington, during the mean times of the 1950's.She
was one of 9 black students to enter then all white, Anacostia High School
in 1954, the first year of forced integration."When we arrived the first day of school," Spencer
recalled, "there must have been 2,000 people standing out there ... they spat on us, shot us with water guns, sicced dogs on us."
During the next four years, Spencer
faced unconscionable prejudice at school: white students assaulted her
, slammed doors in her
face, laughed and pointed at her
during class lessons on slavery.But what wounded Spencer
more was the academic damage done by her
"I loved school," she
explained.But, having come from an under-funded, all black school, "I wasn't up to where the other students were."So she
worked extra hard, studying late every night, raising her
hand in class at every opportunity.But "no matter what I did," Spencer recalled, shaking her head at the memory, "they'd never call on me." And though she received good grades throughout junior high school, her final record was spitefully falsified.
"When I graduated, I had maybe a 1.5 grade point average (GPA)," she
said in disgust.
Bruises heal, and terror, though never forgotten, fades, but the stamp of failure with which her
teachers tried to brand her
, was to Spencer
, unthinkable.So she
set out, from that moment on, to prove them wrong, rising professionally over the next 38 years, in spite of, her
color, sex and academic record the limits set against her
. Starting as a GS2, "keypunch operator" at the Department of Agriculture in 1958, Spencer advanced -- like the computers she programmed -- to a GS15 by 1986, when she served as Director of the Office of Information Resources at the U.S. Maritime Administration.During those years, she single-handedly raised two children, earned a Masters degree in Public Administration, completed Senior Executive Service training, the Federal Executive Institute and the Dale Carnegie Institute for Public Speaking.
retired from government service in 1996, it was with a Meritorious Service Award and literally dozens of honorary appointments, demonstrating without a doubt, that it was not she
who had failed, but her
high school teachers, and the corrupt system of discrimination itself. Following her 34 year of government service, Spencer became Executive Director for the Virginia Community College System's (VCCS) Institute for Excellence in Information Technology, working closely with 23 community colleges and the Northern Virginia Technology Council, to address the workforce shortfall in information technologists skills required by the technology Industry.
To find her
ideal retirement, Spencer
scoured the Bay shoreline as far as Virginia, finally settling on a Chesapeake Beach townhouse in Calvert County, Maryland in 2000."I wanted to be near the water, but close to my grandchildren and Washington.I'm a fisher-person," she
explains, with political correctness."That's my hobby."With her
grandson and "fishing partner," she
catches the head-boats from the pier just a stone's throw from her
bay view home.
But just when and how Spencer
finds time for recreation is difficult to fathom.On top of her work for local Democrats, she recently established Cammack Settlements, LLC, a business entity licensed by the State of Maryland to operate as a Title insurance Company.
A myriad of other political and volunteer organizations -- from the Calvert Board of County Commissioners' Citizen Advisory and Code Home Rule Committees
, to the Chesapeake Beach Maryland Zoning Appeals Board
and the Mid-Chesapeake Bay Kiwanis -- vie for her
is active regionally in the League of Women Voters
, the American Association of University Women and the Lower Western Shore Tributary Strategy Team
(a gubernatorial appointment).Nationally, she
wields influence on the Board of Directors of the National Congress of Black Women
In any case, Jefferson would be proud, for his Democratic Party, and its unprecedented ideals still survive and thrive in the vibrant person of Doris J. Spencer
, proof positive of the triumph of truth and the hope of possibility.