The Avenue

The Avenue


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In 1799, the first group of Black slaves from Haiti settled near the unit block

of Pennsylvania Avenue at Franklin Street to help build the St. Mary’s Seminary



The Avenue

The Legacy of Historic Pennsylvania Avenue 

By Alvin K. Brunson     


In the Beginning 

Pennsylvania Avenue was first the home to many of Baltimore’s Germans, Italians, Jewish residents, and business owners.  During the early 1700s and 1800s, Europeans traveled from Southern Pennsylvania to Baltimore to buy, sell, and trade their commodities. Because Pennsylvania Avenue was connected to; and goes directly (via Reisterstown Road) into Hanover, Pennsylvania, the street was named accordingly. 

The street as we know it today has had four name changes, e.g., the Wagon Road, Hookstown Road, Pennsylvania Road and finally Pennsylvania Avenue.  Between 1688 and 1865, many Black slaves and freeman lived, worked, and died at what is now known as Druid Hill Park, which is located a couple blocks away from Pennsylvania Avenue.  The Etting (Family) Cemetery (1799-1881) located near the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and North Avenue is the oldest existing Jewish cemetery in Baltimore.  

In 1799, the first group of Black slaves from Haiti settled near the unit block of Pennsylvania Avenue at Franklin Street to help build the St. Mary’s Seminary.  The Seminary was located at 600 N. Paca Street, one block from Pennsylvania Avenue.  Soon after the Civil War, (1861-1865) many Negroes, e.g., ex-slaves, soldiers, and Blacks who gained their freedom before the Civil War moved into the Pennsylvania Avenue area.

However, Pennsylvania Avenue did not become a predominately Black community until the 1920s.  With the rise in Black churches, schools, night clubs, restaurants, hotels, barbers shops, beauty salons, insurance companies, banks, newspapers and a thriving medical facility named Provident Hospital, located at 1514 Division Street, Pennsylvania Avenue became a thriving community. Because Baltimore at that time was a segregated city, many Black residents considered Pennsylvania Avenue “a City within a City.”

In 1920, the census showed that 90 percent of Baltimore’s Black population lived along Pennsylvania Avenue.  “The Avenue,” as it is affectionately known, was in the heart of the Black community.  It played the most important role in the development of Black culture in Baltimore.  Day and night, this street was always crowded.  It was where Blacks attended school, worked, and shopped.  At night, this street became a place where people hung out, listened to live music, ate, danced and spent their money fulfilling their wants and desires. 

The Royal Theater (1921-1971)

From 1921 – 1971, “The Avenue” came alive as crowds waited anxiously for the latest performance at the Royal Theater, which was once located at 1329 Pennsylvania Ave.  At any given time one was likely to see celebrities such as Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Billie Holliday, Duke Ellington, Ethel Ennis, Andy Ennis, Count Basie, Charlie Parker, Ray Charles, Pearl Bailey, Moms Mabley, Sam Cooke, Sammy Davis Jr., Sarah Vaughn, Mahalia Jackson, Nat King Cole and Red Foxx, strolling along the “Avenue.” These “Stars” often walked “The Avenue” at night visiting other clubs and signing autographs for devoted fans.

For thirty years, the Royal Theater was a source of pride in the African American community.  In its heyday, the joint was always jumping.  The “entertainers” often stayed in black-owned and operated hotels like the Smith’s Hotel (once located at 435 N. Paca Street) owned by Thomas R. Smith, considered the wealthiest Black man in Baltimore at that time.  Celebrities also stayed at the Penn Hotel, once located at 1639 Pennsylvania Avenue and the York Hotel, which was once located at the corner of Dolphin Street and Madison Avenue. After a show, many of the “Stars” ate at local restaurants on or around Pennsylvania Avenue. Sess Restaurant was once located at 1639 Division Street, one block from Pennsylvania Avenue was a favorite.

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The above article is one of an ongoing series of articles, courtesy Alvin K. Brunson, director of the Center for Cultural Education Inc.,  that will highlight the “history and happenings” along Pennsylvania Avenue. 

The Center for Cultural Education Inc. (541 Wilson Street / Baltimore, Maryland 21217 / 410-669-2975) operates an African American traveling museum, that highlights Baltimore’s Black History and Culture.  

The Center provides bus tours of Black Baltimore and offers the Thurgood Marshall-Billie Holiday walking heritage tour.The Centers’ Director, Alvin K. Brunson, is the author of two books entitled Exploring Baltimore’s Black History and Culture and Baltimore’s Top 25 Historic Sights and Attractions.  He also teaches a course at Sojourner-Douglass College entitled “Exploring Baltimore’s Black History and Culture.”  

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In Honor of the Left Bank Jazz Society’s 40th Anniversary

The Center for Cultural Education Inc. invites you to enjoy an “Evening of Smooth Jazz” featuring Baltimore’s Premiere Jazz Vocalist Ruby Glover (cultural exhibition and light fare included).  Saturday, March 20, 2004, from 6-9 p.m., Sojourner-Douglass College, 200 N. Central Avenue.  Donation is $15.00

(No tickets will be sold at the door).  For tickets contact the Center for Cultural Education Inc. at 410-669-2975. 


Ruby Glover at Sojourner-Douglass College 

March 20, 2004, 6-9pm

Contact: For Alvin K. Brunson  410-669-2975 / /

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Alvin K. Brunson Passes Over

Alvin K. Brunson (Nov. 14, 1958-March 30, 2008)—Brunson died in a building collapse on March 30. . . . he founded his Center for Cultural Education, a nonprofit organization formed to educate people about Baltimore’s African-American history and culture, Brunson was a ray of hope for people living in the Pennsylvania Avenue community. Brunson took hundreds of people on his Thurgood Marshall/Billie Holiday Walking Heritage Tours of Pennsylvania Avenue, during which he would stop at famous attractions, like 1632 Division St., where Thurgood Marshall grew up, or the former site of the Royal Theatre at 1329 Pennsylvania Ave., one of the only places where performers of color, like Holiday and Cab Calloway, could perform in Baltimore during the Jim Crow era. Brunson also took African-American history to local schools, libraries, churches, civic organizations–anywhere he could find an audience with which to share the message that this history should be preserved and that Pennsylvania Avenue should be revitalized.

Sadly, his message was cut short when Brunson was working to revitalize a building across the street from his Center for Cultural Education at 541 Wilson St. His plan for the building was to use it to expand his center into a cultural museum. . . .

At community events, sometimes Brunson would exhibit his traveling museum aside a display of Pryor-Trusty’s book African American Entertainment in Baltimore. He wanted to remind people in a neighborhood long challenged by urban blight, lack of resources, and poverty that the Avenue’s historic legacy is that it was once the center of black life and entertainment in Baltimore. In a City Paper story about Pennsylvania Avenue (“Street of Dreams,” Feb. 2, 2005), Brunson provided historical context for Pennsylvania Avenue, which was first called Wagon Road back in 1818, and then Hookstown Road, and then Pennsylvania Road because it took travelers all the way to the state with the same name.

He asserted that the first black slaves from Haiti settled near the first block of the Avenue at Pennsylvania Street to help build St. Mary’s Seminary. “Theater owners saw the influx of blacks into this area as a means by which to make money,” Brunson said in “Street of Dreams.”

Over the years Brunson served as an expert on Pennsylvania Avenue for several newspapers and he provided a wealth of history on the area in self-published books. He also wrote editorial content about the subject for online media like Doni Glover’s “The Glover Report” column at and Chicken Bones: A Journal. His hope was that one day someone—elected officials, development corporations, anyone with the power to do so—would finally revitalize Pennsylvania Avenue. In the years since the decline of the Avenue in the 1970s there have been partial revitalization efforts, but the Avenue is far from what it could be.

Brunson’s older sister Aletha “Brenda” Brunson, who lives in Richmond, Va., says her family is still mourning the loss of her brother. She says there were six siblings in the family that grew up on Dukeland Street in Baltimore. She says Alvin was very studious, and that his interest in the Pennsylvania Avenue may have been ignited by his love of jazz. When he was a student at Coppin State University earlier this decade, she says, he did a project on the Avenue. “He had a great interest in the contributions of blacks in Baltimore, especially those who had a significant influence and impact on Pennsylvania Avenue and Baltimore in general,” she says. “He had me and everyone else in my family on the lookout for books, albums, magazines—anything anybody could find of historical significance.” City Paper

updated 10 December 2007

*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books

For July 1st through August 31st 2011  


#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane


#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

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Sex at the Margins

Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry

By Laura María Agustín

This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label ‘trafficked’ does not accurately describe migrants’ lives and that the ‘rescue industry’ serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. “Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality.”—Lisa Adkins, University of London

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Debt: The First 5,000 Years

By David Graeber

Before there was money, there was debt. Every economics textbook says the same thing: Money was invented to replace onerous and complicated barter systems—to relieve ancient people from having to haul their goods to market. The problem with this version of history? There’s not a shred of evidence to support it. Here anthropologist David Graeber presents a stunning reversal of conventional wisdom. He shows that for more than 5,000 years, since the beginnings of the first agrarian empires, humans have used elaborate credit systems to buy and sell goods—that is, long before the invention of coins or cash. It is in this era, Graeber argues, that we also first encounter a society divided into debtors and creditors.  Graeber shows that arguments about debt and debt forgiveness have been at the center of political debates from Italy to China, as well as sparking innumerable insurrections. He also brilliantly demonstrates that the language of the ancient works of law and religion (words like “guilt,” “sin,” and “redemption”) derive in large part from ancient debates about debt, and shape even our most basic ideas of right and wrong. We are still fighting these battles today without knowing it. Debt: The First 5,000 Years is a fascinating chronicle of this little known history—as well as how it has defined human history, and what it means for the credit crisis of the present day and the future of our economy.  

Economist Glenn Loury  /Criminalizing a Race

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 19 April 2010 




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Related files: The Barber’s Close Cut  Jazz Singer Ruby Glover  The Avenue in Baltimore

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