Highlighting African-American heritage
CAMBRIDGE — The autumn sun trickled through the leaves in Cambridge Wednesday, Oct. 4, with community taking to the streets for third annual Walk Maryland Day.
The event held special meaning for Cambridge as this year’s walk highlighted The Pine Street Walking Tour: A Story of Community, Faith, Hope and Change. Led by Dion Banks and Kisha Petticolas from the Eastern Shore Network for Change, walkers strolled from Long Wharf Park, up High Street and to Pine Street to shed light on the African-American heritage in Cambridge.
“The tour highlights the African-American experience, which has been ignored in our histor y,” Banks
said. “It is an important part of our culture. We’ve been here forever so we need to tell our own story. It is all about sharing experiences. This is the story of us.”
The Dorchester County Health Department funded The Pine Street Walking Tour project, and helped create a map and brochure depicting historical locations along the walk, which features 14 stops on High, Pine, Cedar, Race and Poplar streets.
“Walking makes you slow down and appreciate all the things around you while getting good exercise,” Petticolas said. “There was a marking about Franklin Roosevelt down near Long Wharf Park that I had never seen before. Those are the things you see when you get a chance to take a walk and look around.
“There is a lot of beauty and history here,” she said. “This walk is a great opportunity to enjoy it.”
The first part of the walk included stops at the Bayly House on High Street, which has a slave home at the rear designated by the National Preser vation Scholars. The Dorchester County Courthouse is the site of first escape engineered by Harriet Tubman. Her niece Kessiah Bowley and her two children escaped from the slave auction block in 1850, meeting up with Tubman in Baltimore and later reaching freedom in Philadelphia.
The final stop on High Street was Waugh Chapel United Methodist Church, home church for Cambridge Mayor Victoria Jackson-Stanley who also attended Wednesday’s walk. Waugh Church is the site of the oldest Black Methodist congregation in Cambridge. It was founded by free African Americans in 1826.
From there, the tour group walked down Pine Street, which was once known as Black Wall Street.
“Economics and social life here were booming,” Banks said. “Pine Street was often called Black Wall Street. Cambridge was very unique to every other place in the country at that time because anything you could get on Race Street, you could get here on Pine Street.”
Banks said the civil rights movement in Cambridge during the 1960s was much different from the rest of the country because African-Americans could vote and had a strong economic base on Pine Street.
“Our movement was different than the national movement,” he said. “Everyone else was talking about desegregation and public accommodations, but we were talking about housing, health benefits and education.”
Petticolas said the Cambridge narrative got twisted when a fire devastated the city’s African-American community Pine Street in July 1967.
The fire began at Pine Street Elementary, burning for several hours before the fire turned into an uncontrollable inferno, leading to the destruction of 17 buildings in a two-block area of Pine Street, the center of African-American commerce, culture and community.
During a four-day “Reflections on Pine: Cambridge commemorates civil rights, community and change” event in July hosted by the Eastern Shore Network for Change, “Civil War on Race Street” author Dr. Peter Levy showed the fire was not caused by a riot, but due to the fire department not coming to put the fire out.
“Our narrative got sucked into the national narrative,” Petticolas said “That is one of the reasons why the story got so twisted when H. Rap Brown came to Cambridge.”
Petticolas said according to Cambridge civil rights leader Gloria Richardson, the school fire began because someone was taking an opportunity to get rid of the school because it was on prime property. She said the person did not know the fire was going to spread. She said the person who started the fire later committed suicide.
After the fire, many Pine Street businesses were unable to rebuild because banks would not give funding to the African-American community.
The Dorchester Elks Lodge 223 also was lost during the fire, but eventually was rebuilt after going to five different banks to get funding.
“Pine Street was the place to come,” Petticolas said. “We had Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown, so many other top African-American acts from the 1920s and on perform on Pine Street. That history still lives here. We want to showcase that history, and be proud of our story.
“We want to thank the health department who funded this project for us,” she said. “They reached out to use for Maryland Walk Day, and asked if they could highlight our walk as the walk to do. We appreciate them wanting to help tell our story, and helping us produce this walk.”
For more information about the Eastern Shore Network for Change, visit www.esnccambridgemd.com.
For more information about The Pine Street Walking Tour, visit www.visitdorchester.org/wp-content/uploads/PineStWalkingTour. pdf.
The Pine Street Walking Tour makes a stop at Waugh Chapel United Methodist Church on High Street in Cambridge Wednesday, Oct. 4.
Eastern Shore Network for Change membe Dion Banks, right, leads the Pine Street Walking Tour during a stop on High Street in Cambridge.
Eastern Shore Network for Change founders Dion Banks, left, and Kisha Petticolas lead the Pine Street Walking Tour by Simmons Center Market on Race Street in Cambridge. The family-owned business was one of the few businesses on the predominantly white Race Street to serve the AfricanAmerican community during the time of segregation.
Eastern Shore Network for Change founders Dion Banks, left, and Kisha Petticolas lead the Pine Street Walking Tour by Christ Episcopal Church in Cambridge. Banks said the church is of the most beautiful churches he has ever seen.
The Pine Street Walking Tour makes a stop at Bethel A.M.E. Church on Pine Street in Cambridge Wednesday, Oct. 4.
The Pine Street Walking Tour goes by Christ Episcopal Church in Cambridge. Dion Banks said the church is of the most beautiful churches he has ever seen.