Take a Stroll Down the Main Street of the African American Experience
Pennsylvania Avenue Heritage Trail
During the 19th century, African Americans in Baltimore lived throughout the city in racially mixed neighborhoods. No neighborhood claimed an African American majority until the 20th century. By 1904, more than half of Baltimore’s African Americans lived in Old West Baltimore, the neighborhood surrounding Pennsylvania Avenue. By the 1920s, Old West Baltimore became an extremely diverse African American community.
Dubbed the “Harlem of the South,” Old West Baltimore grew into a vibrant, mixed-income neighborhood where African Americans fought and gained political power and civil rights, strengthened social and spiritual institutions, and nurtured the genius of many of Baltimore’s greatest artist, thinker and leaders.
As Booker T. Washington wrote in his 1909 The Story of the Negro:
So far as I know there is not a city in the United States where the coloured people own so many comfortable and attractive homes in proportion to the population, as in the city of Baltimore.
Use the map on the back of this sign to help you follow the Pennsylvania Avenue Heritage Trail. Throughout the trail, you will notice four themes: entertainment churches, civil rights and community creation. Enjoy all or just a part of this adventure of discovery in one of America’s most historic cities---one that continually renews itself, building upon the energies, experiences and excitement of previous generations.
Welcome to Pennsylvania Avenue and Historic Old West Baltimore.
Discovery our History and Heritage
(Inscription under the images on the right)
Pennsylvania Avenue’s Jewel
Known as the “Street of Royalty,) Pennsylvania Avenue hosted many cabarets, ballrooms, restaurants, and nightclubs. In the 1300 block, The Royal Theatre welcomed performers from the “Chitin Great,” such as Ethel Waters, Pearl Bailey, Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, James Brown and Stevie Wonder. The Regent in the 1600 block was a vaudeville-styled movie house seating up to 2,200 people. Although all these buildings are gone, echoes of the past are a monument to African American achievement.
Safe Havens, Community Activities
Since the 18th century, African American churches have nurtured the soul, while feeding, clothing and housing the poor; fighting for civil rights; supporting business initiatives and job placement; and providing leisure-time activities.Early on, churches served as safe havens for freedmen and slaves meeting places for abolitionists and civil rights organizations, and models for other communities nationwide by creating financial support, spiritual development, activism and education.
Old West Baltimore Becomes a Fountain
Leaders like Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois and Marcus Garvey held meetings at Old West Baltimore churches, which became centers for the local and national Civil Rights Movement. In 1886, Dr. Harvey Johnson founded the Mutual United Brotherhood of Liberty “to use all legal means within our power to procure and maintain our rights as citizens.” In 1933, African American leaders, including future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and Juanita Jackson Mitchell, started a movement to demand jobs at locally owned stores that sold products to blacks, but refused to hire them.
By and for African Americans
In 1820, Baltimore’s African American community was the largest in the nation, and by the time the Civil War began, after 1861 there were 26,000 free blacks and approximately 2,000 enslaved people living in Baltimore. Although a slave state, Maryland accounted for one of every five free blacks in the United States. By 1920, nine “the bottom” became a residential “hub” for African Americans in Old West Baltimore. Later, 54 blocks north of Dolphin Street and Argyle Avenue became the center of Baltimore’s black community.
Reverse Side of the Marker
Take a walk through history in storied Old West Baltimore. You’ll relive the glory days of Pennsylvania Avenue and its surrounding neighborhoods. Follow the lives of inspiring people. Tour churches that served as places of empowerment and beacons of enlightenment, and gain new perspective on this African American community’s role in the struggle for civil rights. Explore at your own pace following these story signs to learn about Baltimore African Americans who helped build a city and changed the face of American music, art, literature and politics.
(Inscriptions under the images on the right)
1.Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Maryland
2.The Lillie Carroll Jackson Museum
3.Douglas Memorial Community Church
5.Morriah Keyhole Houses
6.Booker T. Washington Middle School
7.Bethel AME Church
8.Union Baptist Church
9.Sharp Street Methodist Church
10.Henry Highland Garnet School/PS 103
11.The Royal Theatre Marquee Monument
12.Billie Holliday Plaza
13.Macedonia Baptist Church
14.The Comedy Club
15.Trinity Baptist Church
17.Ideal Savings and Loan
19.Thurgood Marshall’s Childhood Home
20.Romare Bearden Mural.
(Inscriptions under the images)
*Listen, Can you feel it pulsating down the Street of Royalty?
*It’s bee-bop, jazz, comedy—and of course—the blues.
*All the greats were here. Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway, Fats Waller, Eubie Blake and more!
*Learn about African American politicians and lawyers like William Ashbie Hawkins and George McMechan who fought against on ordinance segregating whites and blacks block by block.
*Visit churches that nurtured the soul, and also fed, clothed and housed the poor.
*Follow Thurgood Marshall from Henry Highland Garnet School/PS 103, to winning landmark Supreme Court cases, to becoming a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
*Learn how Old West Baltimore residents and church leaders played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement and in the Buy Where You Can Work jobs campaign.
*And walk in the creative footsteps of writer Zora Neale Hurston, artist Romare Breaden and actors at the Arena Players.
Location. 39° 18.249′ N, 76° 38.139′ W. Marker is in Baltimore, Maryland. Marker is at the intersection of Laurens Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue on Laurens Avenue. Touch for map. The marker is near the Upton Metro station. Marker is in this post office area: Baltimore MD 21217, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Nurturing the Arts (within shouting distance of this marker); Diversity in a Segregated Community (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); Thurgood Marshall House (about 600 feet away); Community Growth and Faith (about 800 feet away); Buy Where You Can Work Campaign & Higher Education (approx. 0.2 miles away); St. Peter Claver Church (approx. 0.2 miles away); Building Community Organizations (approx. 0.2 miles away); J. Howard Payne (1887-1960) House (approx. ¼ mile away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Baltimore.
Categories. • African Americans • Churches & Religion • Entertainment •
Credits. This page was last revised on March 18, 2017. This page originally submitted on March 14, 2017, by Don Morfe of Baltimore, Maryland. This page has been viewed 125 times since then. Photos: 1, 2. submitted on March 14, 2017, by Don Morfe of Baltimore, Maryland. • Bill Pfingsten was the editor who published this page.