Preserving the history and heritage of Turner Station
Last Saturday, I had the privilege of attending the unveiling of a very special street sign in Turner Station. The sign designated Main Street at New Pittsburg Avenue as Henrietta Lacks Way.
I would hope most readers know Mrs. Lacks’ story by now. If not, I offer a brief recap in our cover story. But do yourself a favor and explore a bit further. Rebecca Skloot’s “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” is a good place to start, but I would suggest going a step further and attending the 20th annual Praise Day Celebration in Turner Station this Saturday, Aug. 5.
Starting at noon at Union Baptist Church, at 105 Main Street, the annual event includes speakers, including many members of the Lacks family, presentations, historical photos and a community gathering at the former VFW post following the ceremony.
It is organized by the Turner Station Heritage Foundation, spearheaded by president Courtney Speed. Mrs. Speed has been a tireless advocate for Turner Station and Henrietta Lacks for many years, devoting her time and energy to promoting the fascinating and important history of the historic African-American community.
In recent years, Turner Station has undergone many changes. The former Sollers Point High School (by then Sollers Point Technical High School) was demolished to make way for fields and a parking lot servicing the recently-built Sollers Point Multi-Purpose Center.
And at the entrance to Turner Station at Dundalk Avenue and Main Street, a Family Dollar store is being constructed on land that Speed and others hoped would one day house a museum dedicated to Lacks and other heroes of Turner Station.
While that museum did not come to pass, at least not in that location (there are historical mementos for view at the Sollers Point Multi-Purpose Center), it is nonetheless vital to recall and preserve Turner Station’s history and heroes.
Beginning in the 1880s, the community of Turner Station rose with the steel mill, built up by workers who could not find space to settle in Sparrows Point.
In the decades that followed, the community was developed by strong, determined forefathers and foremothers. Those pioneers built a community with their own hands, hearts and minds, in the face of a larger society that treated them with scorn and oppression.
The heroes of Turner Station are remembered still today, from Dr. Joseph H. Thomas, who cared for the ill, while building up community landmarks, including Anthony Homes and the Anthony Theater, to Dr. William Wade, who gave of his time and talents to not only heal the sick, but to support local institutions.
Through her efforts, Courtney Speed is promoting a return to the hard work and values that built the Turner Station community. And she’s not alone. Community leaders like Gloria Nelson, Edythe Brooks and others give freely of their time to promote Turner Station’s rich history while continuing to support the people, organizations, businesses and institutions of the community.
So don’t forget that little slice of Dundalk tucked down there, nestled up next to Watersedge.
It is a vibrant community with a rich history and heritage that deserves to be explored and remembered.
Pick up a copy of Skloot’s book, but don’t stop there.
Louis Diggs’ From the Meadows to the Point: The Histories of the African-American Community of Turner Station is a mustread, as are Jerome R. Watson’s Images of America-Turner Station and The Churches of Turner Station.
And if you want to get a taste of history straight from the source (including appearances by Diggs and Watson) be sure to check out the 20th annual Praise Day Celebration this Saturday, Aug. 5, at noon at Union Baptist Church, 105 Main Street.
I hope to see you there!
Henrietta Lacks Legacy Group president Courtney Speed (second from left) accepted a proclamation from Gov. Larry Hogan presented by (from left) Lyndra Marshall, chairman of the Maryland Commission on African-American History and Culture; Dale Green, vice-chair of the commission, and former chairman Theodore Mack at the Praise Day celebration in 2016.
Former Turner Station resident Henrietta Lacks will be honored at the annual Praise Day Celebration on Aug. 5.