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Heritage Crossing in Baltimore, Maryland — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)
 

Take a Stroll Down the Main Street of the African American Experience

Pennsylvania Avenue Heritage Trail

 
 
Take a Stroll Down the Main Street of the African American Experience Marker-Front Panel image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Don Morfe, March 11, 2017
1. Take a Stroll Down the Main Street of the African American Experience Marker-Front Panel
Inscription.  
Welcome to the Pennsylvania Avenue Heritage Trail – a journey through Baltimore’s premier historic African American community. Here you will meet civil rights leaders, artists and musicians, attend historic African American churches, and relive the glory days of Pennsylvania Avenue, once a world-renowned entertainment district.

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 artists, thinkers and leaders.

As Booker T. Washington wrote in his 1909 The Story of the Negro:
So

Take a Stroll Down the Main Street of the African American Experience Marker-Back Panel image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Don Morfe, March 11, 2017
2. Take a Stroll Down the Main Street of the African American Experience Marker-Back Panel
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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. In what is known as the Druid Hill district of the city: there are, perhaps, fifteen thousand coloured people. For fifteen blocks along Druid Hill Avenue nearly every house is occupied or owned by coloured people.

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.

Discover our History and Heritage
(Inscription under the images on the right)
Entertainment
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

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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.

Churches
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.

Civil Rights
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.

Community

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Creation
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 blocks along “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
Welcome
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.

[Captions:]
*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 an 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 Bearden and actors at the Arena Players.
 
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: African AmericansChurches & ReligionEntertainment. A significant historical year for this entry is 1904.
 
Location. 39° 17.814′ N, 76° 37.584′ W. Marker is in Heritage Crossing in Baltimore, Maryland. Marker is at the intersection of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Pennsylvania Avenue on Martin Luther King Boulevard. The marker is on the corner of the City Place on the Avenue Apartments. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 900 Pennsylvania Ave, Baltimore MD 21201, United States of America. Touch for directions.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. The Oblate Sisters of Providence (about 500 feet away, measured in a direct line); Orchard Street Church (about 700 feet away); Perkins Square Gazebo (approx. 0.2 miles away); St. Mary's Seminary Chapel (approx. 0.2 miles away); St. Mary's Seminary (approx. 0.2 miles away); Chapel of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple (approx. 0.2 miles away); Mother Seton House (approx. 0.2 miles away); Sharp Street Memorial Church (approx. 0.3 miles away).
 
Regarding Take a Stroll Down the Main Street of the African American Experience. "McMechan" found, apparently should have been "McMechen".

 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on March 18, 2021. It was originally submitted on March 14, 2017, by Don Morfe of Baltimore, Maryland. This page has been viewed 317 times since then and 93 times this year. Last updated on March 17, 2021, by Carl Gordon Moore Jr. of North East, Maryland. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on March 14, 2017, by Don Morfe of Baltimore, Maryland. • Bill Pfingsten was the editor who published this page.

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Dec. 1, 2022