I have been thinking quite a bit about where we were one year ago. Please forgive me for dipping into the GBCA archives to republish my letter from July 2, 2019. At that time, we were celebrating the establishment of the first Black Arts District. I was also reflecting on Baltimore’s history and its monuments, especially the absence of recognition for sites and people valued by Black people and People of Color.
During this time of political divisiveness as well as emotional, psychic, and health tumult I hope these words are still relevant.
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.
Today, not only Confederate Monuments are being toppled, but we are also wrestling with the legacy of Christopher Columbus whose is venerated by many Italian Americans as a hero, and reviled Native Americans for his violence and abuse.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 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.
P.S. If you appreciate this newsletter and the mission of GBCA, I hope you will consider making a financial contribution so that we may continue to work on behalf of the cultural sector and people throughout the region. You can make a secure gift online through GBCA’s website. Thank you in advance.