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Hattie Carroll: continued

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In the Spring of 1990, he even succeeded in suing John Savoy, a 61-year-old black tenant living on welfare, for unpaid rent of $240 on a shanty which he - Zantzinger - no longer owned. “He carried me to court, and he didn't even own the place,” a bemused Savoy said. (24)
To see how a situation like this could arise, let's take a look at Maryland's history for a moment, and the history of Charles County on the state's southern tip in particular.
Maryland's loyalties were split during the US Civil War. It's northern border forms part of the Mason-Dixon line, placing Maryland geographically in the South, and yet it remained officially part of the Union throughout the war. That didn't necessarily reflect the citizens' sympathies, though. In Baltimore itself power was so finely balanced that Unionist troops were stationed on Federal Hill with orders to fire on their own city if Confederate supporters there gained the upper hand.
Figures from 1860 show that, of the 85,000 Maryland men who joined a militia, 60,000 fought on the Unionist side and 25,000 for the Confederacy. That's nearly a third of the state's fighting men who decided to sign up with Maryland's official enemy in the war. Many marched south across the border to Virginia, where they joined the Maryland Line, a group comprising one infantry regiment, one infantry battalion, two cavalry battalions and four battalions of artillery, all manned by Marylanders who'd decided to fight for the slave-owning South. (34)
As ever, it was largely people's economic interests which determined their political beliefs, and Maryland's reliance on tobacco farming and the slave labour it used goes a long way to explaining why so many Marylanders took this view. Many of those signing up for the Union side did so only because they were promised home garrison duty.
Even in 1940, not much had changed. The Maryland Writers Project, preparing a guide to the state in that year, wrote: “On the Eastern Shore and in southern Maryland, the Negro lives under much the same conditions his ancestors knew. Dependant largely on the generosity of a white employer or landowner, he is generally described in the phrase ‘Sure I love niggers: the old-fashioned kind that knew their place’. Of the 16 recorded lynchings in Maryland since 1885, 11 have occurred in southern Maryland and on the Eastern Shore.” (24)
This is the world where William Zantzinger, born in 1939, spent his formative years. Segregation was still a fact of life in Maryland well into the 1960s, and the state did not finally complete integrating its schools until 1967.

‘It's very easy for Zantzinger to take advantage of people who have no other options’

Fast forward now to 1985, when a survey showed that about 4% of Charles County's 30,000 dwellings still had no indoor plumbing. That's 1,120 properties in all, or about one in every 27 of the county's homes. Washington Post reporter Peter Carlson, visiting Charles County in 1991, asked local housing activist Connie Dunbar how such a situation had been allowed to persist. She explained that Charles County's taxpayers refused to fund any meaningful public housing programme of the county's own, and that the waiting lists for federal housing were too long to be of any help.
The county authorities knew that any attempt to enforce their minimum housing code would prompt private landlords to stop renting the properties altogether, and so they simply turned a blind eye. No slum landlord was going to spend the money needed to get his shacks up to code, and without those shacks, the tenants would have nowhere else to go. “That makes it very easy for somebody like Zantzinger to come along and take advantage of people who don't have any other options,” Dunbar told Carlson. “It's the situation in this county that allows a Zantzinger to flourish.”
When the Patuxent Woods case came to light, national US news outfits like The Washington Post and ABC News rediscovered their interest in Zantzinger, and he again became the talk of the county. Dunbar organised a protest march, which drew dozens of marchers despite temperatures of close to 100 degrees. Golden Evans, president of the county's NAACP chapter addressed the rally. “If it was anybody other than Zantzinger, maybe I'd look at it differently,” he said. “I have no sympathy with him because of the case back in Baltimore when he hit the black lady with the cane and killed her.”
Carlson watched the rally for his Washington Post piece. “For the second time in 28 years, Billy Zantzinger had become a symbol that could move people to protest,” he writes. Later in his research, he had the chance to see Zantzinger in action too, conducting the outdoor auction of a house he owned in Rock Point. “He's a big guy, 6 feet 2 and 225 pounds, with an impressive pot belly that makes him look a bit like Willard Scott, especially when he flashes his salesman's grin,” Carlson reports. “He leaned against the front of a truck decorated with signs advertising his realty company, and barked numbers into a microphone.”
Forced into action by the news coverage Patuxent Woods was generating, Charles County set about supplying the residents there with bottled water, portable toilets and a skip to clear their rubbish. In April 1991, the county told them they need no longer pay any rent at all. Mac Middleton, head of the local commissioners, admitted they'd simply lost Patuxent Woods in their records, never realising they were supposed to have been its landlords for the past five years. “I'm ashamed,” he told Carlson. “It's an embarrassing situation.”
That June, Zantzinger was served a summons charging him with deceptive trade practice, including one count of making a false and misleading oral statement. The maximum sentence was one year in jail, plus a $1,000 fine. In an eerie echo of the Hattie Carroll case, old-timers in Charles County started predicting that Zantzinger's wealth and connections would ensure he got off.
Called by another Washington Post reporter, Zantzinger refused to comment on the charges, and then hung up. The paper had more luck with Margaret Locks, who had lived in one of the Patuxent Wood shacks for 19 years, and been evicted by Zantzinger in 1990 because she owed over $1,000 in rent. By that time, of course, Patuxent Woods was actually owned by the county, but Locks didn't know that. “I don't know how he got away with it for so long,” she told the Post. “They should make him pay the tenants back all the money he took from them.” (35)
By the beginning of July, Charles County had moved the first of the Patuxent Woods tenants into decent federal accommodation, shuffling other families down the list to make room. It lodged a request for $500,000 in federal aid to demolish the rest of the shacks and renovate as much of the County's sub-standard housing as that money allowed.
Carlson's long profile of Zantzinger was published in the Post's magazine that August, under the headline: “A regular old Southern Maryland boy”. The description came from Mike Sprague, an old friend of Zantzinger's and a member of the Maryland legislature. “He's the nicest guy you'd ever want to meet,” Sprague tells Carlson. “He'd give you the shirt off his back.”