Baltimore History

Baltimore History


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


Home Black Baltimore History

Although slavery was legal in Baltimore and in the state of Maryland, free blacks developed

churches and other organizations to assist their persecuted brothers and sisters. There were more

 free persons of color than slaves in Baltimore, more than any other Southern city.



Black Baltimore Still Struggling for a Fair Deal

The Historic Context of Three Centuries


Blacks have had a major presence in the city of Baltimore since its founding in the early 1700s. They made their numbers relevant during the Revolutionary War. The British offered freedom to escaped slaves. Thus Blacks fought on both sides of this war and remained in the city afterwards.

Although slavery was legal in Baltimore and in the state of Maryland, free blacks developed churches and other organizations to assist their persecuted brothers and sisters. There were more free persons of color than slaves in Baltimore, more than any other Southern city.

The African Methodist Episcopal Conference took place in the city in 1827. The famous St. James Episcopal Church was founded in 1827, along with the first black private school for girls. The Oblate Order was founder in 1829. Frederick Douglass worked the docks of Fells Point in East Baltimore and Harriet Tubman passed through many times on her sojourns to free black men, women, and children.

By 1850 there were over 25,000 free blacks in the city, making up 15% of the city population. Free blacks helped to set up 30 to 40 mutual aid societies with fraternal, welfare, and insurance dimensions. After the Civil War, African Americans continued to develop black institutions. Today’s Morgan State University, which was called Centenary Biblical institute, was founded shortly after the Civil War.

In 1895, the Baltimore Mutual United Brotherhood of Liberty was founded, and this organization used the courts to pursue civil rights for African Americans. In 1892, the Baltimore Afro-American was founded, this black print media continues to publish its weekly newspaper. Perhaps the most remarkable characteristic of historic Black Baltimore was that it had so many Black churches.

In 1900 Jim Crow laws were enacted in the city that lasted a half century. In the midst of such apartheid, African Americans developed their own economic base along Pennsylvania Avenue. In the 1930s Baltimore had the nation’s second largest NAACP branch and it was one of the leading UpSouth cities fighting for civil rights. Such a reputation attracted many African Americans from the South to the city after World War I.

By 1958, the African Americans comprised over 50% of the population in the public schools. Black progress against red-lining and struggles against desegregation triggered middle-class flight to the suburbs, which undermined the tax base of the city. Baltimore’s tax and population decreased like Detroit. Philadelphia, DC, and many other large cities.

By the 1970s the city of Baltimore had a clear black voting majority. With a developing black consciousness, more blacks were elected to political office, including Parren J. Mitchell to the US Congress in 1970. When Parren retired Kweisi Mfume, a former street activist, DJ, and militant was elected in his place. Though Kweisi was no Parren, Mfume went on to distinguish himself as the head of the Black Caucus and now as the well-paid head of the NAACP. Baltimore also sent numerous delegates and senators to the Maryland State legislature.

In the 1980s, Baltimore elected its first Black mayor Kurt Schmoke, a Rhodes Scholar. He continued the strategy of William Donald Schaefer in building up the Inner Harbor/tourism tax base. Baltimore’s stature as a national tourist and convention destination grew. But underdevelopment of Baltimore’s black poor continue to fester, this condition increased drug distribution and related crimes.

The city also became national headquarters for the NAACP and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. After 12 years of Schmoke’s leadership, Martin O’Malley, a European American, was elected city mayor with the support from black elected officials, including Delegate Pete Rawlings who is though to be the most powerful black politician in Baltimore.

Many consider Baltimore’s turnaround with the Inner Harbor and connecting it with Fells Point, which has also become a haven for those who seek bars and nightclubs, a resounding success. Today, the city still has not placed much of its efforts in solving the problems of poverty, for most of its black citizens. The schools and colleges for the black poor continue to be inadequately funded by the city and state. The city, however, continues to receive federal funds for rebuilding communities in West and East Baltimore.

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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

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


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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

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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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updated !9 March 2010



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Related files:  The Negro in Maryland  Harriet Tubman  Baltimore Black Churches   Baltimore Black Sliding  Baltimore City Council  Baltimore History

Baltimore Slave Markets 

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