Baltimore Still Struggling for a Fair Deal
The Historic Context of Three
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
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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updated !9 March 2010