This year’s Black History Month reflects on the present as much as the past
From Black Lives Matter to the Baltimore Uprising and beyond, 2015 was a tumultuous year in the annals of black America — a fact that hasn’t been lost on educators and museum officials planning commemorations for Black History Month.
Events of the past year offer the chance to expand those commemorations beyond the usual emphasis on such giant figures as Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr., they say, and to remind everyone that last year or month is as much a part of history as last century.
It’s Frederick Douglass’ 200th birthday. Here’s how Maryland is celebrating the abolitionist’s legacy
When a figure as historically significant as Frederick Douglass celebrates his 200th birthday, it calls for quite a celebration. So it’s no surprise that many throughout the region are planning events to honor the bicentennial of the Maryland abolitionist and orator.
“Douglass is an internationally renowned father of civil rights, an abolitionist, an orator, and a statesman,” said Dale Green, assistant professor of architecture and lead faculty for historic preservation at Morgan State University, who will be attending and helping to plan many of this year’s events. “He’s lectured to thousands. Douglass made an entire career, which is even relevant today, of agitating the American conscience.”
Baltimoreans have long been at the forefront of the fight for equality and civil rights. Prominent Baltimore church leaders, including Reverend Dr. Gamett Russell Waller of Trinity Baptist Church and Dr. Harvey Johnson of Union Baptist Church, were active in the Niagara Movement, an organization founded in 1905 to promote racial equality. Members of this group helped form the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The NAACP’s Baltimore Branch was founded in 1912.
With a large African American population, it is not surprising that the city has been at the center of black culture. Pennsylvania Avenue was known for its jazz and theater and was a stop along the famed “Chitlin’ Circuit.” Baltimore nurtured some of America’s most important musicians, including pianist Eubie Blake, drummer Chick Webb, opera singer Anne Brown, bandleader Cab Calloway, and the incomparable Billie Holiday. Celebrated writer Zora Neale Hurston, author of His Eyes Were Watching God, graduated from Morgan State’s high school in 1918.
Baltimore’s African American leaders also played key roles in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Baltimoreans redefined freedom to include access to economic and educational opportunities; the city’s black residents—with white supporters—overturned local Jim Crow laws, dismantled the segregation system in city schools and public facilities, and promoted civil rights for African Americans throughout the nation. Thurgood Marshall, born and educated in Baltimore, achieved national recognition for his contributions. Others, such as Lillie Carroll Jackson, president of the Baltimore Branch of the NAACP from 1935 to 1969, worked diligently but without the same degree of acclaim.
Baltimore is proud of its contributions to the history and heritage of the African American experience. The city continues to foster and nurture new generations of leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs, adding to the foundation laid by black hands nearly 300 years ago.
Events around Baltimore
Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Exhibit Baltimore City Hall honors the 19th-century icon with a display of dozens of pieces of Douglass memorabilia, including photos of Douglass, his home and family, as well as with birth charts, quilts, maps and abolitionist documents — all which explore the orator’s time in Baltimore, and his involvement in the Underground Railroad, the Civil War and beyond. 8:30 a.m-4:30 p.m. Feb. 1 through March 14. Baltimore City Hall, North Gallery, 100 N. Holliday St. Free. For more information, email: firstname.lastname@example.org. baltimorecity.gov.
Frederick Douglass at 200 Yale American history professor, scholar and historian David Blight will speak on the life and legacy of Douglass and shed some expertise on the abolitionist ahead of the September publication of Blight’s latest biography, “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom.” 6:30 p.m. Feb. 7. Maryland Historical Society, 201 W. Monument St. Free. mdhs.org. Registration is full, but to be added to the wait list, email email@example.com.
Frederick Douglass Day It’s all about Douglass at the Lewis Museum for his 200th anniversary celebration, which will kick off with a children’s art and story hour with London Ladd, illustrator of “Frederick’s Journey: The Life of Frederick Douglass.” There will also be readings of Douglass’ speeches by historical re-enactors; a lecture by John Stauffer, a professor of English and African and African American studies at Harvard University; and video presentations. Noon-4 p.m. Feb. 10. Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture, 830 E. Pratt St. Free. lewismuseum.org.
*Source of content – Baltimore National Heritage Area, Baltimore Sun and Washington Post.