Few members ever elected to the Maryland Senate came to their positions with as great a history of advocacy as did Senator Gwendolyn T. Britt. A business woman, realtor, and human resources professional by trades, Britt served just five short but impactful years in the Maryland Senate (2003-2008). Although her time in the Senate was brief, Britt proved a true fighter for her constituents and was a clear yet often unsung hero of the Maryland Senate.
Born in Washington, D.C. in 1941, Britt graduated from McKinley High School in 1959 and became involved in the Civil Rights Movement at a young age. A true fighter for justice, she advocated veraciously against Jim Crow laws and was deeply involved in a sit-in that led to the desegregation of Glen Echo Amusement Park in Prince George’s County.
Following her local efforts for the causes of desegregation and equality, Britt would became a member of the renowned Freedom Riders where she traveled throughout the southern United States promoting the rights of Black Americans. Dedicated so to the causes that she championed, she would spend some 40 days in jail for sitting in a ‘whites-only’ train station in Alabama in the early 1960s. Arrested multiple other times for peaceful civil disobedience, Britt fearlessly opposed injustice and worked tirelessly to guarantee equal rights for all Americans both at home in Maryland and in the deeply-segregated American South.
Elected to the Maryland Senate in 2002, Britt embarked on a much different avenue to pursue justice. Representing Maryland’s 47th State Senate District, she quickly proved herself as the champion of the disenfranchised that she had always been. In her short Senate tenure, she became a leader on the issues of marriage equality and of restoring voting rights to those formerly convicted of a felony. The Maryland Senate lost Britt suddenly in January 2008 when she passed away from heart failure at the age of 66.
Renowned and admired by her colleagues, then-Senate colleague, and now current Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee Chairman Paul Pinsky said to the Washington Post upon her passing: “The legislative arena is one filled with people with sharp elbows. She was the antithesis of that. She was warm, caring, honorable, principled, and fair.”
Distinguished and admired by those who knew her best, Britt was also entrusted with numerous leadership positions and upon her passing was both the Chairwoman of the Prince George’s County Senate Delegation as well as the Deputy Majority Leader of the entire Maryland Senate.
No one summed up the legacy of Senator Gwen Britt better than former Senate colleague and later Judicial Proceedings Committee Vice Chairwoman Lisa Gladden. Gladden told the Montgomery Gazette in 2008: “Gwen changed the world before she got here.”