Frederick County is mourning the passing of Lord Dunmore Nickens, a civil rights pioneer known for judging others by their character, not their skin color.
Nickens, 99, died Friday night due to complications brought on by pneumonia, his family said.
Thelma Nickens, his wife of 67 years, said he’d been in the hospital for a week battling pneumonia, adding that his kidneys had been failing for some time.
A visitation will be held Friday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Gary L. Rollins Funeral Home, 110 West South St., Frederick, according to the funeral home’s website.
A visitation will also be held from 11 a.m. to noon on Saturday at International Community Church of God, 123 Byte Drive, Frederick. The funeral will be held at noon at the church.
Joy Onley, a member of African American Resources-Cultural and Heritage Society of Frederick County, said she knew Nickens for most of her life.
He lived according to the ideal of judging people by their character and actions, not their race, she said.
“He lived the life that Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed of,” Onley said. “... He would look beyond the color of [a person’s] skin and see the color of his character. Every time he spoke, he tried to incorporate that kind of an image: Try not to look at the person’s skin, but look at the content of their character.”
Nickens began his civil rights activism in Frederick County the 1950s and ‘60s.
He worked on issues related to better housing conditions, increased integration for public accommodations, rent control and the eradication of drugs on the street as president of the Frederick County Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People from 1972 to 1994.
In recognition of his achievements, a street was named after him in 2009.
Lord Nickens Street connects North Market and North Bentz streets between 6th and 7th streets.
Frederick County Board of Commissioners’ President Blaine R. Young said Nickens was a strong pioneering civil rights activist.
“He was very involved in our local community at the time when civil rights were at the forefront,” Young said. “I knew him personally, respected him and considered him a friend.”
Guy Djoken, president of the Frederick County Chapter of the NAACP, said that Nickens advised to him to accept the post as president, and mentored him throughout his tenure.
Djoken said any honors or that he has received over the years he owes to Nickens for his mentorship.
Djoken is a 2005 winner of the Hood College Justice Thurgood Marshall Award and 2007 Maryland State Conference NAACP Freedom Fighter Award.
“He really impacted my life in a way that no other person has,” said Djoken, who has been president of the chapter since 2004.
State Sen. Ronald N. Young (D-Dist. 3) of Frederick, who is Blaine Young’s father and was a friend of Nickens for more than 50 years, recalled that he and Nickens protested the move by a local Democratic club in the late 1960s to exclude African Americans from joining, which later resulted in the group working toward integration.
“I think that brought an awareness that helped to begin the change and some of the people stayed involved and pushed for it,” Young said. “Those were the vestiges of another time, and it just sort of faded away.”
Young remembered Nickens as a “mixture” of a person, who was very gentle most of the time but carried anger with him about facing discrimination when he was younger.
“Basically, behind the anger he was just a peaceful gentle person,” Young said. “If he was your friend, he was your friend.”
Thelma Nickens said she remembered in the early 1980s when Lord Nickens brought a lawsuit against Frederick County for allowing meeting permits to be given to a Klu Klux Klan group.
At the time, Lord Nickens led around 15 people to a KKK rally held in the county to prove to a judge that the group would not let blacks in. Indeed, the group was stopped at the entrance, said Seaven Gordon, who was vice president of the Frederick chapter of the NAACP at the time.
Gordon, 72, said he remembered that some of the KKK guards were armed but saw that Nickens was still determined to make his point.
“He is not one that would back down from anyone or anything,” Gordon said.
Onley spoke of Nickens’ tremendous impact on the community, working to advance civil rights in situations that were often nearly volatile.
“There were not too many like him that wouldn’t mind speaking out on what they thought was right in a situation when it was dangerous to speak out,” she said. “... It could be one person he was talking with or thousands of people he was talking with. If they didn’t agree with what he was saying, he wasn’t scared to voice his opinion.”
Gordon, who worked with Nickens at the NAACP chapter for more than 20 years, said Nickens was always a strong advocate for civil rights who never tired of working for the movement.
“It was like working with one of your closest friends or your brother,” Gordon said. “I know he had my back, and I had his back. It was just a joy to work with an individual like him.”
Former Frederick Mayor Jennifer Dougherty said she appreciated Nickens’ leadership and advice when she took office.
In 2004, the city promoted its first black police officer to a leadership position, something she said Nickens was grateful to see.
“I will always remember him for being a complete gentleman, and for a complete and honest discussion,” Dougherty said. “His gentle leadership gave us the opportunity as an administration to try to set the path right without firebombs being thrown. He trusted that we wanted to go in the same direction hand-in-hand.”
Thelma Nickens said her husband sometimes worried her when he would take such actions as going to the KKK rally but she understood that he had to do them due to his strong convictions.
“Nothing stopped him from going because he was determined that he was going to what he would do,” she said.
Nickens was a resident of Adamstown and worked at Fort Detrick as a laboratory technician for more than 30 years. He and Thelma Nickens had three children.