A long look at African-Amer­i­can his­tory in Bal­ti­more County

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS - By Pamela Wood

The Bal­ti­more County African Amer­i­can Cul­tural Fes­ti­val had all of the usual of­fer­ings: musicians per­form­ing gospel songs, ven­dors sell­ing clothes made from African-in­spired tex­tiles and booths that dished up soul food fa­vorites like fried fish and col­lard greens.

But in a cor­ner of the fes­ti­val in Towson, sev­eral groups qui­etly of­fered his­tory: sto­ries of Mary­lan­ders who played on Ne­gro Leagues base­ball teams, of men who served their coun­try as Buf­falo Sol­diers, and of Hen­ri­etta Lacks, whose cells sparked med­i­cal dis­cov­er­ies that her fam­ily never knew about for years. And they shared the sto­ries of Bal­ti­more County’s 40 rec­og­nized his­tor­i­cally African-Amer­i­can neigh­bor­hoods, which few res­i­dents know about.

“If peo­ple don’t know from where they came, they don’t know where they are go­ing,” said Mary Rad­cliffe, pres­i­dent of the Bal­ti­more County chap­ter of the As­so­ci­a­tion for the Study of African Amer­i­can Life and His­tory. Rad­cliffe, a re­tired Bal­ti­more school­teacher, said few peo­ple know that African-Amer­i­cans have lived in the county for hun­dreds of years and made sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions to so­ci­ety along the way.

Phyl­lis B. Watkins, an­other mem­ber of the chap­ter, said that peo­ple are al­ways sur­prised when they learn about the “rich his­tory” of African-Amer­i­cans in the county. “So many of them thought AfricanAmer­i­cans did not ex­ist in Bal­ti­more County,” she said. “When they come in here, it just blows their mind.”

The cen­ter­piece of the fes­ti­val’s his­tory zone was a tent filled with long ta­bles dis­play­ing dozens of posters cov­ered with pic­tures from the county’s 40 AfricanAmer­i­can en­claves. The posters are the cul­mi­na­tion of decades of work by Louis Diggs, who can­vassed each one of the neigh­bor­hoods col­lect­ing photos and doc­u­ment­ing oral his­to­ries.

Some of the neigh­bor­hoods are well­known, like the east county neigh­bor­hood of Turn­ers Sta­tion, where Lacks lived when her can­cer cells were taken by Johns Hop­kins Hos­pi­tal doc­tors to be used in re­search. Or East Towson, which re­cently un­veiled a marker ex­plain­ing how the com­mu­nity was founded by freed slaves.

Mem­bers of the Bal­ti­more Buf­falo Sol­diers dis­played au­then­tic and re­pro­duc­tion equip­ment used by the Buf­falo Sol­diers, a name given to African-Amer­i­can cav­alry units who pri­mar­ily fought in the In­dian wars in the West in the late 1800s.

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