This week, we welcome the exciting news that the Pennsylvania Avenue Black Arts and Entertainment District received its official designation by the State of Maryland and the Maryland State Arts Council. Congratulations to the partners who have worked hard to make this possible including Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, Lady Brion, Upton Planning Committee, Arch Social Club and the Druid Heights Community Development Corporation. A recommendation for this designation was also made by the Mayor’s Task Force on Safe Arts Space.
This move marks a very important transition in publicly honoring African American heritage in Baltimore City. The telling of history may not always be written by the victors, but it is shaped by the powerful. The Confederate Monuments tell the story of the Lost Cause, not the winners of the Civil War. But they were muscularly placed to reinforce the dominance of white culture and to threaten anyone who dared challenge it. The moments in history that are marked with celebration have left out the stories of people whose lives and cultures are undervalued. There are many sites throughout Baltimore that are sacred to African American culture, but are not afforded the fanfare offered up to our Lees and Taneys. Pennsylvania Avenue represents just one such place and a step forward toward balance. For many years it was the thriving home of Black performers including Cab Calloway and Billie Holiday and was a hub for gathering, shopping, and living.
Other sites of importance include Preston Gardens and the Inner Harbor. Mayor Preston commissioned the Segregation Commission in 1918 and was responsible for the removal of the early Free Black community known as Gallows Hills (where Preston Gardens is presently located). This community was home to blacks and anchoring black institutions (Bethel, Sharp Street Church, Union Baptist, and many others) all of which contributed to the advancement of African Americans.
The Inner Harbor was originally home to Freedom’s Port, the 1790s community of Free Blacks, today, the Inner Harbor is Baltimore’s largest tourist destination. Yet, there is no recognition of African American history and culture at this location.
Many thanks to the many historians, artists, and activists who keep the memory of these important locations alive and better understood as a part of Baltimore and Maryland history. And once again, congratulations to those who made the designation of the new Pennsylvania Avenue Black Arts and Entertainment District possible.
All my best,