I first met Darryl Hill in Cambridge, MD at the grand opening of his medical cannabis dispensary, Sunburst Pharm, almost exactly one year ago. Late 2019 when I was considering locations for a location for Tea Pad to celebrate Black History Month, Cambridge quickly rose to the top of the list. A beautiful mural of Harriet Tubman in Cambridge, her birthplace, literally illustrates the foundation of American Black History. Harriet was born into slavery, escaped to Pennsylvania to secure her freedom and became the most prolific and successful conductor of the Underground Railroad.
I went to Cambridge last weekend to congratulate Darryl and his dispensary team on their first anniversary and we ended up having dinner together where I had the privilege of hearing his experiences first-hand.
Cambridge plays a pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1962 when Darryl, known for many firsts in ending segregation as well as “the Jackie Robinson of College sports”, Baltimore’s Civic Interest Group (CIG) – an affiliate of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) – began organizing sit-ins and freedom rides in towns along Maryland’s Eastern Shore. When the SNCC arrived in Cambridge, they organized demonstrations which were focused on the desegregation of local businesses and schools.
At that time, Maryland Governor J. Millard Tawes urged the Maryland General Assembly to pass an anti-discrimination bill aimed at ending prejudice in establishments throughout the state. The Eastern Shore legislators derailed that effort when they pushed to exempt themselves from enforcement of the bill.
Civil unrest in Cambridge continued for the next few years with notable events including June 14, 1963 when the predominantly African-American section of town – the “Second Ward” – was set on fire. Gunfire was exchanged and casualties ensued. July 1967, the National States Rights party and the Ku Klux Klan arrived in Cambridge to protest school desegregation. More violence against Blacks was incited leading to the Cambridge riot of 1967, one of the 159 race riots that swept cities in the United States during the “Long Hot Summer of 1967”.
What’s remarkable about Darryl is during this time of civil unrest on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, 57 miles away he was determined to break down racial barriers in college sports in Annapolis, Maryland at the US Naval Academy. In 1961, he ended segregation on the Academy football team and all military academies (Navy had an 8-1 season with him on the squad). He left Navy to play for the University of Maryland Terps. In 1962, Darryl became the first African American to receive an athletic scholarship to play sports for a major university in the South. He was a wide receiver. Darryl sat out his first year at Maryland and played his historic first game as a wide receiver for the Terps on September 21, 1963. He was well received by his teammates but not by other team coaches or fans on both sides of the stadium. The Maryland coach received a death threat. The National Guard protected the team when it went out on the field against the University of South Carolina in Columbia, South Carolina.
What’s amazing for many today is to consider when Darryl and the Maryland team traveled in the South, they stayed only at hotels and restaurants that would serve Darryl.
Juxtaposed with the ongoing civil unrest and violence in Cambridge, at the end of that 1963 season the Terps played an away game against the Clemson University Tigers. The Clemson coach vowed that his team would not allow any black to play in their “whites only” stadium and threatened to pull out of the game and the conference if Maryland brought Darryl. Darryl’s mother, Palestine (a PhD), was refused general entry to the stadium, but the Clemson President took Mrs. Hill to his private box and invited her to spend the night in his family home before she would catch a train back to Maryland. The game went on, and Darryl set the ACC record in that game for pass receptions in a game. A record that stood for 37 years.
Cambridge was chosen by Darryl and his partners as the site for medical cannabis dispensary Sunburst Pharm because of its predominately African American population which is undeserved with high unemployment and low income. The entire Sunburst staff resides in Cambridge or nearby and is diverse both in ethnicity and gender. Darryl proudly shared with me that the entire team which opened the dispensary a year ago is still on board. Not many businesses can say the same.
Darryl and I ended our evening last weekend with a conversation on what the word “resolve” means. Darryl’s life exemplifies it. Fast forward almost 60 years and Darryl is a successful international businessman, cannabis industry business owner and an icon of civil rights. Based in Cambridge, Maryland no less.
Join me on February 27th at 6 pm at Jimmie & Sook’s on Main Street in Cambridge, Maryland when Tea Pad celebrates Black History Month and an icon. Event proceeds support The Tea Pad Scholarship for Minority Entrepreneurship. Tickets on line now.