What do you get when cultural diversity, delectable cuisine, great sports and tantalizing entertainment collide? You get Baltimore, Baby!
Most people are likely to think of the Inner Harbor, the Baltimore Ravens, Eagles and Orioles sports teams, or even the National Aquarium when they think of Baltimore. But there is much more to this eastern mid-Atlantic treasure of a city than sports, dining and entertainment. An unforgettable adventure in African-American history awaits you in Baltimore.
Since Baltimore’s founding in the early 1700’s, people of African descent have been making contributions to the city’s growth and development. Even when slavery was legal in Maryland, there were more free Blacks in Baltimore than there were slaves. The Black population established churches and organizations to aid in their struggle for freedom and justice. Some of these churches are still standing today. The foremost organization aiding in the struggles of Blacks, the NAACP is headquartered in Baltimore. The Sharp Street United Methodist Church, established in 1787 and once a meeting place of the NAACP, still stands as a Historic Landmark.
Baltimore is the birthplace of the first Black Supreme Court justice, Thurgood Marshall; famed composer and pianist Eubie Blake; and the unforgettable songstress, Billie Holiday. Freedom fighter Frederick Douglass, who was born into slavery near Easton, Md., became a Baltimorean at the age of eight when he came to the Fell’s Point area. That area is now a historic district. Douglas moved on, but returned to Baltimore when he was in his 70s as a prosperous man. He built five houses on Strawberry Alley, which he named Douglass Place, known today as Dallas Street. During the summer months, you can take the Frederick Douglass “Path to Freedom” Walking Tour. You can find tributes to Douglass and other great Blacks throughout the city. A statue of Douglass can be found in front of Holmes Hall at Morgan State University, and a memorial to him is located in the historic Fell’s Point Square.
The Fell’s Point District, one of Baltimore’s oldest neighborhoods founded in the 1600s, is a good place to start your Black heritage tour. The economy here once thrived on shipbuilding and fine-tuned shipbuilding technology, which helped to win the War for Independence and to fight the war of 1812. Many of the old buildings from these periods still stand. Immigrants from Greece, Poland, Ukraine, Germany, and even Lamby Indians, helped to settle Fell’s Point. It is still home to many people of these ethnicities, as well as Tibetans, African-Americans, and Hispanics. Fell’s Point was also once a strategic slave trading point. Built in its harbors were ships that contained secret under-deck compartments designed to carry hundreds of slaves even after the trade was outlawed. The sounds of creaking wagons, clanking shackles, and the cries, moans and sufferings of the enslaved Blacks heard as they were being carried in cages to be sold at Fell’s Point harbor is said to have inspired Frederick Douglass to become a freedom fighter.
You can learn more about this great abolitionist at the Frederick-Douglass Maritime Park and Museum. A modern waterfront property, the park is dedicated to educating people about Frederick Douglass and Isaac Meyers, the first Black owner of a marine railway shipyard in the United States. This historic site, where you can also learn about other African-American contributions to the shipbuilding industry, is especially appropriate for children of all ages as it includes hands-on shipbuilding activities. The shipyard here, once the first African-American owned and operated shipyard, is still in operation today.
Next, visit the Reginald Lewis Museum for more in-depth information about the life and times of African-Americans in Baltimore. Named for the late great businessman who once owned the largest Black business in the country, the museum is the largest African-American museum on the East Coast and is designated a Smithsonian affiliate. African-American art and temporary museum exhibits are located on the first floor, while the third floor’s permanent exhibit moves chronologically highlights Black history. The museum also contains a café, two classrooms, a theater, a resource center, a terrace, an oral history listening and recording studio, and other accommodations that will provide visitors, including children, a mixed-media learning experience.
No cultural visit to Baltimore is complete without a stop at the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum. This museum began as the dream of husband-and-wife team Drs. Elmer and Joanne Martin, who purchased four wax figures in 1980 and transported them to schools, churches and community venues for educational presentations. This project is being carried on today, much more embellished. While here, be sure to view the renowned slave ship exhibit, a moving and emotional representation of the Middle Passage. Modern-day Baltimore heroes like Ben Carson, M.D., pediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital, can be found in museum’s Maryland Room. A recent multi-million-dollar renovation at the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum includes additional gallery space and a multimedia theater.
Other must-visit Black heritage sites of Baltimore’s diverse history and culture include Eubie Blake National Jazz Institute & Cultural Center, home of permanent exhibitions on Baltimore jazz legends like Cab Calloway, Chick Webb, as well as its inspiration, Eubie Blake. Also, stop by the Babe Ruth Museum, where you can view exhibits on the American Negro League, and The Baltimore Aquarium, where the entire rare fish collection of African-American engineer, inventor and philanthropist Henry Hall is housed. The Orchard Street Church, which served as a station route along the Underground Railroad, is another must-visit heritage site. Also visit the Marble Hill Community once a thriving middle-class neighborhood and home to a number of notable Blacks, such as Thurgood Marshall.
To complete your tour of Baltimore, be sure to visit the World Trade Center, the Baltimore Holocaust Memorial, the USS Constellation Museum and the Baltimore Museum of Industry. And, of course, you may even get a chance to take in a sports event, dine at one of the many ethnic restaurants and enjoy tantalizing entertainment during a night out on the town!