Born March 4, 1920 in Damascus, MD
Civil rights activist, led numerous struggles for integration and equality for African Americans in Montgomery County, Maryland
Interviewed by TJ Turner
2006 Visionary Heritage Fellow
Second Place NVLP Scholarship Winner
A pioneer in civil rights and social activism, Harvey Zeigler led the struggle for integration and equality for African American in Montgomery County, Maryland.
Born March 4th, 1920 in Damascus, Maryland, Zeigler was the sixth of thirteen children born to parents Ellsworth and Bertha Lyles. Zeigler’s grandfather, Doc Zeigler, was one of thirty run away slaves that escaped via the Underground Railroad in 1863. Doc Zeigler eventually settled in Damascus. It was in the same town of Damascus, Maryland that Harvey Zeigler grew up amidst the de facto segregation of the 1920s and 1930s. His experiences with discrimination led him, at a very young age, to challenge segregation and to find ways to break down the barriers he, and other African Americans faced on a daily basis.
Zeigler attended the all-black Rockville High School and later Lincoln High School in Rockville, MD. He graduated from Lincoln High School in 1938, and three years later, on December 8, 1941, he was drafted into the United States Army. During World War II Zeigler served three years in the US and one year in Europe in the 329th segregated unit of the US Army. After receiving his honorable discharge in 1945, Zeigler returned to Damascus to face the same discrimination he experienced in the segregated units of the Armed Services. In the late 1940s, Zeigler and his cousin Audrey Zeigler decided to start a trucking company. In order to secure start-up funds for his venture, Zeigler had to fight the discriminatory loan practices of the local bank. Denied a loan from the Damascus Bank, Zeigler succeeded in securing a loan from GMAC in Silver Spring to purchase his trucks. He continued to fight the discriminatory practices of the Damascus bank, however, and eventually he influenced the Damascus bank president to open the bank’s loan practices to all African Americans in the community.
In 1959, Zeigler went to work for the newly built Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) in Germantown, Maryland. Employed as a custodian, Zeigler realized that he was passed over for numerous promotions. With the help of the NAACP, which Zeigler had joined in the early 1950s, he filed a complaint against the AEC. Although labeled a troublemaker and transferred to Washington, D.C., Zeigler and the NAACP eventually won the case against the AEC for its discriminatory hiring practices, and the company was forced to offer African Americans the opportunity to secure the higher-paying, skilled-labor jobs.
In 1960 Zeigler became a youth advisor for the NAACP’S Montgomery County chapter. He was also a key player in mobilizing Montgomery County community members’ to get involved in the famous March on Washington. Throughout the mid-1960s, Zeigler led numerous protests in Montgomery County to integrate various facilities, including local movie theaters, the Kenwood Country Club, two amusement parks and other public facilities. Zeigler’s activism also led the way for African American teachers and counselors to obtain jobs in the Montgomery County Public Schools, and he worked to open the door for African American fire fighters in Damascus. In addition to these civic activities, he was directly involved in implementing an African American history class into the Damascus High School curriculum. Zeigler retired from the Federal Government after twenty three years of employment in 1977 and devoted the majority of his time to the NAACP. Over the next two decades Zeigler focused his time on youth services and church activities, integrating many of the United Methodist Churches in Montgomery County and serving the various needs of his local community members.
Zeigler’s selfishness commitment to civil rights, community service, and local activism rival those of the more widely known civil rights leaders. At the age of 86, Zeigler’s lifelong civil rights work was honored by his induction into the Montgomery County Human Rights Hall of Fame. Most recently, Zeigler, along with his nephew Warren Fleming, started the Damascus Connection to advocate for legislation and social service support to residents and small businesses in Upper Montgomery County. Currently, Zeigler is secretary-treasurer of the Damascus Connection Committee and serves on the Executive Board for Quality Solutions Technologies, Inc. He is also a historian for the Damascus Heritage Society.
Zeigler married his wife, Bertha Bowins in 1959. They remained married until her death. He has four children, Rose, Keely, Barbara (Zepharra) Fitz and Sheila Zeigler Arnold. Harvey Zeigler continues to live in Damascus, Maryland, where he has resided for 56 years.
URL (Click to bookmark): http://www.visionaryproject.org/zeiglerharvey