The Negro in Maryland
By WPA Workers
form the largest group in Maryland not British in origin. Though their history is interwoven with that of the whites
from the first days of settlement, it remains separate. Among the hardy voyagers who disembarked at St. Clement’s
Island in 1634 were
John Price, a Negro, and
Tousa, a mulatto, who had been taken aboard in the Barbados
when the English vessels stopped for supplies.
beginning of the eighteenth century Negro slaves were numerous
in the colony and by the time of the Revolution nearly a third
of the population of the State was Negro, for the most part
laborers of the plantations.
Though the high wages of the World War period brought
numerous Negroes to Baltimore from the Deep South and also from
the Maryland counties, Negroes now form only 16 per cent of the
total population of Maryland.
early took official cognizance of the evils of slavery and of
the danger of swelling its population with members of another
race. In 1783 the
slave trade was prohibited by State law and in 1787 Luther
Martin of Maryland endeavored to have a clause limiting or
banning the trade placed in the National Constitution.
It was a matter of economics, however, that had reduced
the slaves to 12 per cent of the population by 1860; Maryland
tobacco plantations had become increasingly unproductive (see
Agriculture) and the care of slave families from infancy to
old age was becoming a serious burden. Long before the Civil War many families had begun to free
their slaves, and by 1860 freed slaves formed 13 per cent of the
Negroes, however, were not entirely free.
At times they were restrained by law from working at
certain occupations, of from selling tobacco and other
commodities without a certificate from a justice of the peace.
Again they were prohibited from keeping dogs, carrying
firearms, attending religious services (unless conducted by a
licensed or ordained white minister), belonging to secret
orders, or selling spirituous liquors.
If convicted of any of these offenses, Negroes could be
banished from the county or State.
leading abolitionist working in Maryland was William Lloyd
Garrison, who, during the winter of 1829–30 published in
Baltimore The Genius of Universal Emancipation.
In a series of vitriolic articles he lashed out at
slave-owners, owners of ship carrying slaves, slave dealers, and
Northern sympathizers with slavery.
In the reaction that followed the brief appearance of the
paper, Maryland, fearing the growing abolition sentiment, passed
increasingly severe laws governing slavery, restricting
manumission, and rigidly limiting the movements of slaves.
leading figures in American Negro history were several
Marylanders, including Benjamin Banneker (1731–1806),
the astronomer, Frederick Douglass (1817–95);
Tubman (1815–1913); and
Frances E. W. Harper
a free Negro and first of his race to receive a presidential
appointment, was named to assist Major Andrew Ellicott in a
survey of the boundaries of the ‘Federal Territory.’
In 1761 Banneker whittled from wood the first clock made
in Maryland and in 1792 published an almanac for which he
constructed his own tables.
early years of Frederick Douglass (see Literature)
were marked by insecurity, harsh treatment, and constant change
of ownership. In
1838 he made his escape to New England where he became one of
the Anti-Slavery Society’s most eloquent propagandists.
The fact that he was himself an escaped slave made his
position perilous, and he was sent abroad to lecture, chiefly in
Great Britain where he received much attention and where he
remained until 1847 when he was ‘ransomed’ by two
to America with funds subscribed by British admirers, he for
many years published the abolitionist paper, The North Star.
In 1871 he was appointed a member of the territorial
government of the District of Columbia; later he was made a
United States marshal and still later recorder of deeds in the
District. He also
served as minister to Haiti.
Tubman, variously called the ‘heroine of the Underground
Railroad’ and ‘Moses of her people,’ escaped from her
Eastern Shore master into Pennsylvania when she was about
first returned to assist members of her own family to freedom,
and later so extended her activities that between three and four
hundred liberations are credited to her.
She so infuriated the slave-owners that a price of
$40,000 was set on her head.
Ellen Watkins was born of free parents in Baltimore. By about 1853 in Little York, Pennsylvania, she had become
interested in the Underground Railroad and she later lectured
against slavery in Philadelphia, New Bedford, and Boston.
On September 28, 1854 she was engaged as a permanent
lecturer by the Anti-Slavery Society of Maine.
In 1860 in Cincinnati she married Fenton Harper.
After the Civil War she continued to lecturer on various
subjects and spent much time in the South as a representative of
the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.
Henson, whose life story provided material for Harriet
Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and whose
descendant, Matthew Henson, accompanied Peary to the
North Pole, was also born in Maryland.
problem that had confronted Negroes freed during the first half
of the century faced all Negroes in Maryland after the Civil
War—that of earning a living.
Personal services, common labor, and farming were the
three fields with which the Negro was most familiar, and those
easiest for him to penetrate.
A few, particularly in the country, were blacksmiths and
carpenters. Brickmaking and oyster shucking constituted seasonal
were also Negro stevedores, and at one period following the war,
Negroes practically monopolized the ship caulking trade and hod
the occupational distribution of Maryland Negroes has not
changed radically. It
is true that a number of business and professional men have
overcome their economic and social handicaps, but in 1930
Maryland had only one Negro lawyer to every 8,375 Negroes and
one Negro doctor to every 2,800 Negroes.
In the field of public service are relatively few Negroes
and the majority of these are teachers.
In the municipal government of Baltimore, where Negroes
comprise more than a fifth of the population, they have little
share of jury service and the possibility of election to the
City Council is remote, although there have been infrequent
instances of such occurrences.
No Negro has ever been elected to the Maryland State
Legislature and until 1938, when one woman and three men was
appointed to the Baltimore force, there were no Negro police.
elsewhere, discrimination against Negroes in official position
exists both on a numerical basis and, at least among teachers,
in regard to salaries. A
‘jim-crow’ law segregating whites and Negroes on public
carriers applies on steamships carrying passengers with the
State and on electric cars running 20 miles beyond the limits of
a city, but the law specifies that accommodations be of equal
is practiced in both public and private educational
institutions, and in most cases the facilities for Negroes are
not as good as those for whites.
Though attempts to enforce housing segregation by law
have been unsuccessful, practical segregation has forced the
Negro to pay high rentals in deteriorated districts.
Custom decrees that the color line be observed in
theaters, restaurants, and, to some extent, in stores.
Maryland Negro finds many industrial and commercial fields
barred to him, in part because of the widespread theory that it
is unwise or impossible to mix Negroes and whites at work.
In refuting this, Negro leaders point out that the
State’s first union of brick-masons was formed by whites and
Negroes; that one-third of the members of the first brickyard
workers’ organization were Negroes; and that both whites and
Negroes are included today in such organizations as the
1869 the first Negro state labor convention in the United States
met in Baltimore and recommended a nation-wide organization of
Negro labor. Five
months later a national assembly met ‘to consolidate colored
workingmen of the several States, to act in co-operation with
our white workingmen in every State and in every territory of
the Union who are opposed to distinction in the apprenticeship
laws on account of color, and to act cooperatively until the
necessity for separate organization shall be deemed unnecessary,
and to petition Congress for the exclusion of coolie labor.’
There is, however, no further record of this early
movement after the national convention.
prospects of jobs with high wages brought an influx of Negroes
during and after the World War period, they increased the Negro
population of Baltimore by more than a third and had definite
economic and social effects on the life of the city.
Overloading that part of the labor market open to
Negroes, the immigration lowered the wage level of all unskilled
labor and in later years swelled the ranks of the unemployed.
With their farm backgrounds and with standards of living
set in small, rural communities, many of the newcomers had
difficulty in adjusting themselves to city life.
Maryland as elsewhere social and economic handicaps have helped
to make dependency, delinquency, and disease important factors
in the Negro ‘problem.’
In 1934 Negroes, who constituted approximately
one-sixteenth of the total population, formed more than 40 per
cent of the persons on relief.
More than 75 per cent of the illegitimate births reported
to the city health department are Negro and 40 per cent of the
children taken to juvenile court are of this race.
percentage of Negroes in Baltimore who reach the age of
sixty-five years and thus become eligible for old-age assistance
is only one-half that of the whites reaching the same age—some
indication of the poor health conditions among members of the
reports showed that the city’s death rate from tuberculosis
was the highest in large American cities.
Baltimore’s health commissioner, laying the blame for
this situation largely on bad housing conditions for Negroes,
pointed out that the Negro death rate from tuberculosis in
Baltimore was 245.2 per 100,000 in 1937 as against a white death
rate of 63.6.
the social and economic bases of these conditions have not been
touched, several groups are at work attempting to better the
conditions of Maryland Negroes.
Among such organizations is the Urban League, the
Baltimore branch of which was founded in 1924; its objective is
to improve relations between the races. The Baltimore body has made an effort to interpret this
rather broad program in relation to local problems.
is the only State with a permanent interracial commission,
consisting of ten white and nine Negro members, to consider
questions concerning the welfare of Maryland Negroes, and to
recommend legislation and sponsor movements toward the
improvement of relations between the races.
The members of the commission, which was inaugurated in
1927, serve for six years without pay and are appointed by the
governor with the consent of the State senate.
Federation of Maryland Organizations is still another group
attempting to secure social justice for the Negro, and the
published twice weekly, carries on a militant campaign for Negro
is always a vital factor in Negro life.
In the Colonial period Negroes and whites of Maryland
worshiped in the same buildings, but gradually Negroes organized
themselves into separate congregations, chiefly Baptist and
Methodist, which at first were served by white pastors.
In addition to the Protestant congregations, there are
now four Negro Roman Catholic parishes with a membership of
Negro religious schools is one maintained by the Oblate Sisters
of Providence (see Religion).
Its Baltimore school, founded in 1828, is now attended by
the daughters of well to do Negroes of Baltimore, and other
cults have had increasing influence among Negroes in the
post-depression period. More
than three score ‘churches’ with congregations of about a
dozen each are housed in small dwellings or in abandoned stores.
This movement has been stimulated by the success of a
Father Divine, who was born in
generation ago George Baker was mowing lawns in
Baltimore’s suburbs. About
1907 he experienced a ‘recombustion’ and announced himself
as the ‘Messenger.’ He
moved his sphere of activity to New York City, where he became
the guiding spirit of a communal experiment that offered his
followers the advantages of church, boarding house, and
employment agency—all under one roof.
Father Divine’s organization today claims a membership
of 2,000,000, both Negro and white, with more than 150
‘kingdoms’ scattered over twenty-three States, the District
of Columbia, and four foreign countries.
local cult leader is a mulatto,
C. M. Grace, known as
‘Bishop,’ ‘Father,’ or more often simply ‘Daddy.’
He heads forty or more missions in various parts of the
to usage in the Divine cult, finances are stressed in the Daddy
Grace movement. Collections are ‘lifted’ at all services, and should the
offering be meager, commodities under the proprietary name of
Grace are offered for sale.
Baltimore, where approximately 125,000 Negroes live, is
Within a comparatively small area are two hospitals,
numerous churches, schools, theaters, markets, stores,
confectionaries, hotels, restaurants, and night clubs, all, with
few exceptions, conducted for and by Negroes.
Cultural entertainment available to the Negroes of
Baltimore includes concerts by a Negro municipal band, a Negro
symphony orchestra, a Negro chorus of some 300 voices, and drama
by a little theater.
the counties of Maryland, particularly on the Eastern Shore and
in southern Maryland, the Negro lives under much the same
conditions his ancestor knew.
Oyster shucking, crab-picking, truck farming, work in
canneries—these are his chief means of earning a meager
largely upon the generosity of a white employer or landowner, he
is generally described in the phrase, ‘Sure, I love niggers,
the old-fashioned kind, that know their place.’
Of the sixteen recorded lynchings in Maryland since 1885,
eleven have occurred in southern Maryland or on the Eastern
involved in the general social and economic affairs of the
State, Maryland Negroes believe that solution for their troubles
is expressed in the statement of editorial policy by the Afro-American:
‘. . . when colored citizens get their share of jobs in
industry, in municipal, State and Federal departments, they will
have, ipso facto, solved most of their other problems.’
Source: WPA Workers in Maryland. Maryland: A Guide to the
Old Line State.
NY: Oxford U. Press, 1940
* * *
* * * * *
The New Jim Crow
Mass Incarceration in the Age of
By Michele Alexander
Contrary to the
rosy picture of race embodied in Barack
Obama's political success and Oprah
Winfrey's financial success, legal
scholar Alexander argues vigorously and
persuasively that [w]e have not ended
racial caste in America; we have merely
redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial
segregation has been replaced by mass
incarceration as a system of social
control (More African Americans are
under correctional control today... than
were enslaved in 1850). Alexander
reviews American racial history from the
colonies to the Clinton administration,
delineating its transformation into the
war on drugs. She offers an acute
analysis of the effect of this mass
incarceration upon former inmates who
will be discriminated against, legally,
for the rest of their lives, denied
employment, housing, education, and
public benefits. Most provocatively, she
reveals how both the move toward
colorblindness and affirmative action
may blur our vision of injustice: most
Americans know and don't know the truth
about mass incarceration—but her
carefully researched, deeply engaging,
and thoroughly readable book should
* * * *
The Last Holiday: A Memoir
By Gil Scott Heron
Shortly after we republished The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, Gil started to tell me about The Last Holiday, an account he was writing of a multi-city tour that he ended up doing with Stevie Wonder in late 1980 and early 1981. Originally Bob Marley was meant to be playing the tour that Stevie Wonder had conceived as a way of trying to force legislation to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday. At the time, Marley was dying of cancer, so Gil was asked to do the first six dates. He ended up doing all 41. And Dr King's birthday ended up becoming a national holiday ("The Last Holiday because America can't afford to have another national holiday"), but Gil always felt that Stevie never got the recognition he deserved and that his story needed to be told. The first chapters of this book were given to me in New York when Gil was living in the Chelsea Hotel. Among the pages was a chapter called Deadline that recounts the night they played Oakland, California, 8 December; it was also the night that John Lennon was murdered. Gil uses Lennon's violent end as a brilliant parallel to Dr King's assassination and as a biting commentary on the constraints that sometimes lead to newspapers getting things wrong. —Jamie Byng, Guardian / Gil_reads_"Deadline" (audio) / Gil Scott-Heron
& His Music Gil Scott
Heron Blue Collar
Remember Gil Scott- Heron
* * *
Hopes and Prospects
By Noam Chomsky
In this urgent new book, Noam Chomsky
surveys the dangers and prospects of our
early twenty-first century. Exploring
challenges such as the growing gap
between North and South, American
exceptionalism (including under
President Barack Obama), the fiascos of
Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S.-Israeli
assault on Gaza, and the recent
financial bailouts, he also sees hope
for the future and a way to move
forward—in the democratic wave in Latin
America and in the global solidarity
movements that suggest "real progress
toward freedom and justice." Hopes and
Prospects is essential reading for
anyone who is concerned about the
primary challenges still facing the
human race. "This is a classic Chomsky
work: a bonfire of myths and lies,
sophistries and delusions. Noam Chomsky
is an enduring inspiration all over the
world—to millions, I suspect—for the
simple reason that he is a truth-teller
on an epic scale. I salute him." —John
In dissecting the rhetoric and logic of
American empire and class domination, at
home and abroad, Chomsky continues a
longstanding and crucial work of
elucidation and activism . . .the
writing remains unswervingly rational
and principled throughout, and lends
bracing impetus to the real alternatives
* * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
* * * * *
If you like this page consider making a donation
* * * * *
Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
* * * * *
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
* * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
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(Books, DVDs, Music, and more)
update 17 April 2012