He made the city what it is today

Nancy Abbott-Young

PHOTO: Nancy Abbott-Young reads the newly unveiled plaque honoring her father Sam Abbott for whom the Takoma Park Community Center/Sam Abbot Citizens Center is named.

BY BILL BROWN

The Sam Abbott plaque dedication ceremony was not just about the former Takoma Park mayor’s activism and accomplishments.

“This evening was about history, but it was also about the present and the future,” said Nancy Abbott-Young, one of Sam and Ruth Abbott’s daughters.

The nine speakers who preceded her shaped and preserved Takoma Park as we know it today. Sam “Sammy” Abbott was their ally, or mentor, or leader.

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“It’s been 25 years since my father passed away. He died on the eve of the Persian Gulf War, the beginning of the end-game in the Middle East, the beginning of what has become industrialized slaughter in the cradle of civilization. He saw neither the tragedy of 9/11 nor the tragedy of September 12 – the “new normal,” of orange alerts, airport pat-downs, and the deep penetration of the surveillance apparatus into the lives of private citizens. He never saw the high-tech dark ages, the marketing of violence and the gun culture to the young, the militarization of the domestic police force, the pre-K-to-prison pipeline, flat wages, the demise of the middle class, two-party gridlock.”

-Nancy Abbott-Young

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Without Faith Stern Takoma Park Elementary School and Takoma Park Middle School (Takoma Park Junior High School at the time) would be gone. Sam Abbott convinced her “that the little guy could take on the system.” So, from 1973 – 1983 she helped organize parents and the community to take on the county school board, and get them to change their decisions – an almost unheard of accomplishment.

“Sam was in the trenches” she said. He used his skills and connections to get press coverage and political support, especially in the early 80s when he was elected Takoma Park’s mayor.

Without Frances Phipps most of the houses from the community college to the Takoma Metro station would be gone, replaced by a larger college campus and a 1000-car decked parking garage. She and other community activists had to stand in front of bulldozers to do it.

Without Peter Franchot the city would still be divided into two counties. Now the Maryland Comptroller, Franchot was a Maryland assemblyman who, along with many others, helped broker the deal that unified Takoma Park in Montgomery County. Unification was one of Abbott’s issues.

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“My parents – many of our parents – never saw the melting of polar ice-caps, or the dying of the coral reefs, Katrina, the drought in the San Joaquin Valley, the peril of honeybees, butterflies and song birds. For those of us who have grandchildren, we’re sadly aware that this is the only world young children have come to know, and we’re very concerned about that.”

                -Nancy Abbott-Young

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Without Angela Rooney the city would have Interstate 95 running through its middle. She fought alongside Abbott, who coined the slogan “No white men’s road through black men’s homes,” keeping the freeway out of Washington, DC., preserving many communities and neighborhoods.

Rooney was unable to attend but her prepared remarks were delivered by author John Hanrahan.

Without Jay Levy and his wife Sharon Takoma Park would not be a nuclear-free zone. They and Abbott (as Mayor) established the zone in 1983, a principled stand against then-president Ronald Reagan, whose bellicose statements were re-animating the Cold War.

Without Laureen Summers the annual Takoma Park Folk Festival would not exist. As much as Sam Abbott was an activist, she said, “he was a music lover.” She, along with Abbott and others planned the first festival. It was a fundraiser to save the Takoma Theater in Takoma, DC. Sam, she said, urged them to make it an annual event. 37 years later, it still is.

Without Lynne Bradley and other city residents who stepped up to run for city council in the early 80s when Abbott was mayor, the city wouldn’t have its progressive track-record and reputation.  There would be no rent control, nuclear-free zone, sanctuary-city, or even ward elections. Until the “Abbott Era” ward representatives were elected by city-wide vote.

The plaque.

Without Sam Abbott Takoma Park would not be a sanctuary city, and Ana Sol Gutierrez would not be a state assembly delegate. A political refugee from El Salvador, she said Abbott was her mentor, encouraging her to become politically involved.

Summing up, Abbott’s daughter Nancy said her father’s era was the most transformative in its history since its founding.

“BF Gibert the entrepreneur founded Takoma Park in the late 1800s. 100 years later Sam and an energized community fought hard to preserve it,” she said.

Before the crowd of about 70 people, most of them gray-haired, adjourned to the Sam Abbott Community Center atrium to see the plaque unveiled, Abbott ended with her father’s favorite quote from Dante, “The hottest places in Hell have been reserved for those who – in periods of greatest crisis – have maintained their neutrality.”

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About the Author

Bill Brown
Bill Brown moved to Takoma Park in 1982. He has been involved in journalism in one way or another since he co-published an underground high-school newspaper in the late 1960s.