Black residents and activists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century sought to fulfill the promise of the Fourteenth Amendment through organizing, protest, and legal action. Clear examples of this work are found in two of the most significant civil rights organizations in Baltimore’s history: the Brotherhood of Liberty, established in 1885, and the Baltimore branch of the NAACP, established in 1914.

The promise of equality and political power, however, encountered stubborn and violent resistance as white Americans promoted the ideology and politics of white supremacy following the end of slavery. White Americans embraced Jim Crow segregation across the country and the Democratic Party pursued an aggressive strategy of disenfranchising Black voters in the southern United States. This national and local commitment to racial segregation came at a critical moment in Baltimore’s physical development and growth. In 1888, the city annexed a ring of developing suburbs from Baltimore County and, in the early 1890s, private investors built new electric streetcar lines to serve the residential neighborhoods extending out from the city center. Expanding transportation options supported the early growth of rowhouse neighborhoods for white Baltimoreans. Black residents, however, were excluded from these areas by threats of white violence, the refusal of property owners to sell or rent to Black residents, and, later, restrictive covenants excluding all non-white residents.

The push and pull of Black activism and white reaction were central to the electoral politics of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century Baltimore, including a statewide push for the disenfranchisement of Black voters in the early 1900s and national debates over women’s suffrage in the 1910s. Segregation shaped how Baltimore’s Black households occupied homes, organized civic groups, and used public space. Widespread discrimination largely determined the experiences of Black workers seeking jobs and Black students and teachers dealing with unequal schools and salaries. The Brotherhood of Liberty and the NAACP both tackled this wide range of issues criticizing injustice everywhere from steamships to schools to prisons and police stations.

Early Activism and the Brotherhood of Liberty: 1880s–1900s

On June 22, 1885, Rev. Harvey Johnson invited five Baptist ministers to his home at 775 W. Lexington Street. The group hoped to turn the promise of the Fourteenth Amendment, which granted equal protection under the law, into a better life for their Black congregants, families, and neighbors. To achieve this goal, they established the Mutual United Brotherhood of Liberty and declared their mission “to use all legal means within our power to procure and maintain our rights as citizens of this our common country.”1

Harvey Johnson was born to enslaved parents in Fauquier County, Virginia, in 1843 and arrived in Baltimore after the Civil War in 1872 to serve as pastor at Union Baptist Church (B-2965). Four years earlier, the church had moved from Lewis Street (near Orleans Street and Central Avenue) in east Baltimore to the former Disciples Meeting House on North Street (today known as Guilford Avenue) between Saratoga and Lexington Streets.2 In 1877, writer Amelia Etta Hall moved to Baltimore from Montreal, Canada, where she met and married Harvey Johnson. Through the couple’s leadership, membership in the church increased from 268 people in 1872 to over 2,000 in 1885—a powerful base of support for the Brotherhood’s activist agenda.3 By October 1885, the Brotherhood of Liberty had won its fight to see then 26-year-old Everett J. Waring admitted to the state bar, making Waring the first Black lawyer able to practice in Maryland. In her study of the Brotherhood, historian Bettye Collier-Thomas quotes Johnson’s understanding of the importance of Black lawyers to the broader agenda of Black freedom: “there must be Negro lawyers, men who have themselves suffered and who will fight the people’s fight, because the people’s fight will be their own battles!”4

Over the next few years, Johnson, together with Waring and other allies, waged an energetic campaign against the state’s prohibition on interracial marriage and discriminatory provisions in the state bastardy law. The bastardy law entitled unmarried white women to seek financial support from a child’s father but did not offer the same right to unmarried Black women. These discriminatory state policies, known to activists as the “black laws,” had their roots in the restrictions imposed on both enslaved and free Black residents before the Civil War.5 The Brotherhood of Liberty began planning to bring a test case that would take the issue to the state Supreme Court, and a group of women connected to the A.M.E church started raising money to cover the cost of a lawyer.

Finally, in early 1888, the Maryland state legislature, facing legal threats and determined public pressure, enacted an indirect solution. The legislature updated the code of general public laws and dropped the word “white” from state bastardy laws as well as with the stated requirements for jury service and admission to the bar.6 The campaign’s success was both symbolic—an official recognition that the state’s laws should not discriminate—and practical—clearing the way for Black Baltimoreans to use state courts in their legal fight for equal treatment under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments.

Historian Dennis Halpin explains the Brotherhood of Liberty’s activism “sought to further define the implications of the Fourteenth Amendment, draw the wider community into activism, and seek redress for various injustices.” The group’s strategy of using legal test cases became a model for successful legal activism in the twentieth century—an approach most famously championed by Charles Hamilton Houston, dean of Howard University Law School and the NAACP’s first special counsel.7

On September 6, 1888, the Brotherhood of Liberty celebrated the community’s victory by hosting a picnic at Irving Park near Annapolis Junction, inviting Black Marylanders and friends from Washington, DC, to gather together, recognize their progress, and rally for the work ahead. “We ask not special legislation, but the enforcement of the law as it is,” Rev. Johnson declared before a crowd of 2,000 people. Johnson urged continued pressure:

We must organize, raise money, contest our legal wrongs in the courts. We should agitate and contend until every vestige of color discrimination is swept from the laws. We demand educational facilities for our colored children; we demand colored teachers for colored schools; we demand the right to travel upon common carriers; we demand non-molestation by bad white men; we demand the same law meted out to other men. This is our case; it is just. The right will triumph.8

This initial court victory enabled further legal action by the Brotherhood. In addition to its work to amend the state Bastardy Act and challenge laws prohibiting intermarriage, the Brotherhood of Liberty also pushed for improved educational conditions for Black students and represented the rights of Black workers charged with murder during the Navassa Island trial in 1889 and 1890. In 1889, the workers rose up in protest over brutal conditions in a remote guano mining operation owned by the Navassa Phosphate Company of Baltimore, leading to the death of five white supervisors. Historian Bruce Thompson argued that these cases were distinct from earlier advocacy efforts by suggesting that the Brotherhood of Liberty in the 1880s and 1890s used the law to “defend black civil rights against encroachments by whites.” Thompson also highlighted the limits of their advocacy, noting that the Brotherhood was never in a position to use legal suits to “strengthen, re-establish, or expand black civil rights.”9

The Brotherhood of Liberty and other activists faced an enormous challenge—an explicit and pervasive culture of white supremacy that dominated American society and politics in the 1880s and 1890s. White Democrats throughout the South, Maryland included, responded to the rising power of residents since Reconstruction by seeking to disenfranchise voters and create a culture of segregation. “Whites created the culture of segregation in large part to counter black success, to make a myth of racial difference, to stop the rising,” observed historian Grace Elizabeth Hale.10 It was no surprise then that the Maryland legislature rushed to pass a ban on interracial marriage in January 1884—just weeks after Maryland-born Frederick Douglass married Helen Pitts, a white suffragist and abolitionist.11 White Baltimoreans—including Confederate veterans, Ladies’ Memorial Associations, elected officials, and the Democratic Party—deployed racist stereotypes and “Lost Cause” myths to justify lynchings, disenfranchisement, discriminatory employment practices, unequal schools, and unjust courts and policing in the late nineteenth century.12 For example, in 1891, Baltimore lawyer William Cabell Bruce wrote a short book, entitled The Negro Problem, that made a case for disenfranchisement with Social Darwinist arguments using the language of science to justify a belief in inferiority and white superiority.13

The movement did not go unchallenged. Bruce’s book prompted a response from Rev. Harvey Johnson whose published remarks for the Monumental Literary and Scientific Association of Baltimore attacked the logical and historical basis of Bruce’s arguments. But, by January 1894, speaking before a crowd at Metropolitan A.M.E. Church in Washington, DC, Frederick Douglass despaired: “I hope and trust all will come out right in the end but the immediate future looks dark and troubled. I cannot shut my eyes to the ugly facts before me.”14 Little more than two years later, the US Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) granted federal approval to racial segregation and encouraged the spread of Jim Crow policies across the country by establishing the “separate but equal” doctrine and legitimizing state laws that permitted racial segregation.

The move to erect public Confederate monuments in Baltimore illustrates how these ideas grew to dominate popular culture around the end of the nineteenth century. Although the Society of the Army and Navy of the Confederate States in Maryland resolved to erect a monument on Eutaw Place back in January 1880, Mayor Ferdinand Latrobe, rejected the idea as too divisive.15 Twenty-three years later, on May 2, 1903, hundreds of people, including mayor and Confederate veteran Thomas Hayes, gathered at the dedication of the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Mount Royal Avenue. The crowd waved “the battle flag of the old days,” listened to Maryland, My Maryland (a song written by James Ryder Randall, a Maryland native and Confederate sympathizer, with lyrics calling on Maryland to join the Confederate rebellion against the federal government), and celebrated the aging white Marylanders who joined the Southern rebellion 40 years earlier.16

Confederate Monument on Mount Royal Avenue, c. 1910-1920. Courtesy Library of Congress

The new monument directly followed the Democratic Party’s return to local political power through an explicitly white supremacist campaign. While the Democratic Party largely dominated city and state politics in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, in 1895, Republican Mayor Alcaeus Hooper and Governor Lloyd Lowndes Jr. won office in an “landslide” election that gave Baltimore a Republican Mayor and Governor for the first time since 1867. Republican candidates for City Council overtook Democratic candidates in an overwhelming 17 of the city’s 22 wards.17

Regrettably for the 50,000 Marylanders who helped vote Republicans into office, according to historian Bettye Collier-Thomas, “once elevated, the Republicans all but ignored black interests.” In response to their 1895 loss, local Democrats rallied around slogans labelling Baltimore a “White Man’s City” and elected Thomas G. Hayes as mayor in 1899.18 Segregationists who won electoral victories based on the suppression of voters across the country were emboldened by the Supreme Court’s Plessy v. Ferguson decision to enact new Jim Crow laws. For example, in 1904, Maryland passed a measure mandating racially segregated railroad coaches and, in 1908, extended the law to include electric trolley lines and steamboats.19 Historian Bruce Thompson noted that opponents to the law in Baltimore secured “an exemption [from the law] for travel within Baltimore” but, outside the city, all Marylanders “suffered the ignominy of being separated.”20 While the 1899 election ultimately resulted in the school board hiring more teachers for segregated schools, it served a segregationist political agenda—ensuring no white teachers would encounter students.

In the face of these new challenges, residents organized to fight back wherever they could. Baltimore’s churches, newspapers, political clubs, and civic organizations spoke out against the onslaught of attacks on their equal rights. The 31 newspapers established in Baltimore between 1856 and 1900 helped to spread residents’ shared concerns through editorials and reporting on injustice in Baltimore and around the country. One of those papers holds a unique place in the development of the civil rights movement: the Afro-American newspaper. John H. Murphy Sr., a 51-year-old veteran of the US Colored Troops, established the Afro-American newspaper in 1892 after combining his own church newsletter, The Sunday School Helper, with two other publications: The Ledger, established in 1882 by Rev. George Freeman Bragg, rector of St. James Episcopal Church, and The Afro-American, published by Rev. William M. Alexander, pastor at Sharon Baptist Church and a founding member of the Brotherhood of Liberty. Over the next several decades, the Afro-American newspaper (later known simply as the AFRO) grew into national newspaper with editions in 13 major cities. Ultimately, together with thousands of Black people in Maryland and Baltimore, Rev. Harvey Johnson’s Brotherhood of Liberty, and the community the group represented successfully frustrated “white attempts at disfranchisement and segregation” and laid the foundation for the generation of activists that followed in the early twentieth century.21

The Baltimore NAACP and Continued Resistance: 1900s–1920s

The Brotherhood of Liberty evidently faded from existence by the early twentieth century. When local activists organized the Maryland Suffrage League in 1905, then 62-year-old Johnson declined a nomination as the group’s president saying that a “younger man should lead race battles.” Johnson’s efforts were far from forgotten, however. In 1917, as a group of Black lawyers recognized the 25th anniversary of the 1885 legal victory over their right to practice law in Maryland by presenting Johnson with the gift of “a handsome silk umbrella.”22 These same lawyers, including W. Ashbie Hawkins, Warner T. McGuinn and George W. F. McMechen, joined legal campaigns and defense committees rallying opposition to lynching and disenfranchisement in the 1900s and housing segregation in the early to mid-1910s. Many Black Baltimoreans saw the clear continuity between oppression under slavery before the Civil War and current threats to Black freedom. For example, in October 1913, Warner T. McGuinn, a local Black attorney then residing at 1911 Division Street, observed: “Physical slavery has been abolished, but its subtler forms are still here. Disfranchisement, ‘jim crowism’ and segregation are but the subtler forms of race slavery.”23

Across the country, individuals engaged in anti-racist activism, mutual support, and interracial organizing began to shape new national movements but remained divided on the best way to achieve greater security, health, and prosperity for Black Americans. Booker T. Washington was a national leader from Alabama whose work exemplified an “accommodationist” approach. Washington encouraged the uplift of Black citizens through education and entrepreneurship over direct challenges to discriminatory laws in hopes of avoiding a white backlash to his activities—an approach most famously captured in his 1895 speech known as the Atlanta compromise.

By the turn of the twentieth century, there was growing frustration with this approach among many Black Americans. Harvard-trained sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois offered a sharp critique of Washington’s accommodationist approach in his 1903 book, The Souls of Black Folks. Du Bois pointed to Booker T. Washington’s 1895 Atlanta compromise speech as an example of "the old attitude of adjustment and submission." Du Bois predicted that if Black Americans followed Washington’s recommendation to focus on “industrial education, the accumulation of wealth, and the conciliation of the South,” it would ultimately lead to disenfranchisement, “a distinct status of civil inferiority” for Black Americans, and the withdrawal of support for Black Americans seeking higher education. Instead, Du Bois sought to change public opinion and force white Americans to recognize that political and civic equality was essential for both the well-being of Black Americans and the health of American democracy.24

In July 1905, Du Bois joined William Monroe Trotter and a number of others who opposed an accommodationist approach and formed a new civil rights organization known as the Niagara Movement. The participants at the group’s first annual meeting at the Erie Beach Hotel in Ontario, Canada, included Rev. Garnett Russell Waller. Waller lived at 325 E. 23rd Street (near Trinity Baptist Church at Charles and 20th Streets) and served as the Niagara Movement’s Maryland secretary.25 The next year, the organization met in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, where Rev. Harvey Johnson gave the opening invocation at the group’s members-only business meeting.26

Two years later, in August 1908, the Springfield, Illinois, race riot resulted in three days of mass violence where 5,000 white Americans attacked their Black neighbors. At least 16 people died, and white rioters destroyed dozens of homes and businesses. The shock of the violent attack inspired three white New Yorkers to organize a national conference including both white and Black activists, W. E. B. Du Bois among them, to meet in New York City on February 12, 1909—the centennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth—and form the National Negro Committee. At the group’s second meeting on May 12, 1910, the participants established a more permanent organization—the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

In 1912, Black Baltimoreans established the first local chapter of the NAACP, but initially struggled with uncertain leadership and limited financial support.27 President Woodrow Wilson’s move, shortly after taking office in March 1913, to re-segregate the federal workforce and facilities in Washington, DC, led the Baltimore branch to join activists in Boston, Detroit, Topeka, Denver, Tacoma, Seattle and Oakland in holding mass protests and writing letters to the President protesting what the NAACP called Wilson’s “officializing race prejudice.”28

A growing willingness among Black Baltimoreans to organize and act against racism is clear even before the local chapter of the NAACP was established. For example, when two advance agents for the notoriously racist play The Clansman arrived in Baltimore in March 1906, Black waiters at the St. James Hotel at the southwest corner of Charles and Centre Streets refused the agents service in protest, reportedly with the encouragement of the “Constitutional League.”29 The Birth of a Nation, D. W. Griffith’s movie based on The Clansman, screened for the first time in Baltimore the evening of March 6, 1916, before a crowd at Ford’s Theatre that “packed the house to its utmost limit.” The 1871 theater on Fayette Street near Eutaw Street hosted the show for seven weeks while “beating all records for length of run and for receipts.”30 The screening drew outrage from the writers at the Afro-American newspaper who had been closely following the NAACP’s national campaign to restrict the film’s distribution. Two days after the opening night at Ford’s, the newspaper reported that “yells of rage and screams of hate” elicited by the film “did not cease with the end of the show.” The paper quoted two contrasting responses to the film: a “colored man” who called it “the most disgusting thing I have ever seen,” and a white man who said, “I should like to kill all of the damn niggers in the United States.”31

The Birth of a Nation’s commercial success reflects the significant difficulties the NAACP faced locally and nationally. Organizers also often struggled to raise and sustain financial support for the movement. In June 1920, activist Addie Hunton came to Baltimore as a field organizer and recruited a large number of new members for the local chapter. When she returned to Baltimore in January 1923 for a mass meeting together with A.M.E. Bishop John Hurst, she wondered at the chapter’s failure to sustain their membership, writing: “Where did 2,000 members signed up in 1920 go? … People are interested everywhere. We fall down on the field for want of a sustained leadership.”32 The local anti-lynching movement faltered by the late 1920s, as the campaign by the national NAACP could not push federal anti-lynching legislation past intransigent opposition in the US Congress. Similarly, despite their eventual success in overturning Baltimore’s segregation laws, Black activists could not overcome the coordinated efforts of white neighbors and elected officials who maintained residential segregation through alternate means.

Political Power and Black Community

Baltimore’s activists included proponents of both the accommodationist and anti-racist approaches to civil rights represented by Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois. Many local religious leaders worked to “uplift” Baltimore’s poor Black residents by improving their living and working conditions while still avoiding direct challenges to segregation. Other activists articulated the need to build and support Black institutions by withdrawing from racist white institutions rather than working to change them. While religious groups still dominated civil rights leadership, there was a rise in the number of fraternal organizations and mutual aid groups that also played a role in organizing Black Baltimoreans around a variety of social issues. And, in the early decades of the twentieth century, the fight for women’s suffrage provided a new avenue for civil rights advocacy that ultimately led to increased political power for the Black community.

Uplift Ideology and Community Building: 1890s–1920s

Some Black Baltimoreans responded to racial inequality and widespread racism by investing in education, civic activities, and religious work to “uplift” Baltimore’s poor and working-class Black residents. Historian Kevin K. Gaines has written about “racial uplift ideology” and how it can be interpreted as “an anti-racist argument” used by an educated Black elite. Uplift, Gaines writes, was a “complex, varied and sometimes flawed response to a situation in which the range of political options for African American leaders was limited by the violent and pervasive racism of the post-Reconstruction United States.”33

Rev. George Freeman Bragg is another example of a Baltimorean who believed in the importance of racial uplift. Born in North Carolina on January 25, 1863, Bragg’s childhood was shaped by the Civil War and Reconstruction. Ordained as a deacon in Virginia in 1887, he entered the Episcopal priesthood in 1888 and, in 1891, arrived in Baltimore with a passion for fostering independent leadership within the Black church. He joined the 66-year-old St. James’ Church located at Saratoga Street and Guilford Avenue. In 1901, Bragg led his church to a new building in northwest Baltimore at Park Avenue and Preston Street near the site of the present-day Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. During the early twentieth century, Bragg became a prominent speaker and writer on the role of Black congregations within the white church, Black religious history, and a variety of civil rights issues.

Bragg’s writing reflects the complexities and contradictions inherent to Baltimore’s uplift movements more broadly. In 1904, for example, Bragg joined dozens of other Black pastors in speaking out against the proposed Poe Amendment to disenfranchise Black voters by calling it “an eternal disgrace” and concluding that the amendment “seeks to convert a hitherto quiet and industrious body of people into a state of discontent, and thereby retard the best interests of the whole people.”34 In a 1906 letter to the Sun, Bragg observed that many white judges and police officers were “unconsciously” prejudiced against Black people and argued: “If the negro is uplifted he must be uplifted from within. The man who seeks his reformation must be of the same bone and blood as himself and hopeful to the end of the chapter."35

In his 1904 remarks, however, Bragg also reinforces positive racial stereotypes of Black Americans as “quiet and industrious,” and, in 1906, Bragg offered the most charitable possible interpretation of white prejudice as “unconscious” rather than intentional and explicit. Bragg’s assumptions of white superiority and the necessity of a conciliatory approach to Black uplift are also clear in a 1918 letter where Bragg made the case for recognizing “white people who have helped the colored race,” writing: “Contact of the best of the white race with black people will beget the same likeness in the ebony. Therein is security and peace.”36

While Bragg’s presentation may have been intended to catch the sympathies of the Sun’s white editors and readers, Bragg’s approach to social change surely prompted skepticism among many Black Baltimoreans in the early twentieth century. White Baltimoreans, however, embraced Bragg’s ideas. The 1926 Colored Professional, Clerical and Business Directory noted that Bragg “possesses possibly more strong friends among influential white people of this community than any other colored clergyman.”37

When middle-class Black residents in his congregation continued to move even farther west, Bragg moved St. James again in 1932. The congregation moved to the former Episcopal Church of the Ascension, constructed in 1867, at Lafayette Square (B-4436), where they celebrated their first service on Easter morning. The move reflected a major change in the neighborhood as St. James’ Church was one of four Black congregations that moved to Lafayette Square between 1928 and 1934.38

Republican lawyer Harry S. Cummings also employed the language of “uplift” while serving on the First Branch of the Baltimore City Council.39 Twenty-six-year-old Baltimore-native Harry Cummings was the first Black person to win elected office in Baltimore when he won a seat on the City Council in 1890, representing city’s eleventh ward. It was a narrow win—just a little over 100 votes out of 3,472. Cummings had graduated from the University of Maryland School of Law just a year earlier, and, when the Sun asked his plans after the election, he explained, “I will feel it my duty” to address the “special needs for colored people” especially “better school facilities.”40 In September 1894, Cummings spoke at a “colored people’s fair” organized by the Baltimore County Industrial Association at the Timonium fairgrounds. Then out of office, Cummings spoke on the importance of “morality, religion, frugality, and industry,” arguing “it is our duty to show the world the progress we have made.”41 However, in other settings, Cummings railed against the structural barriers to Black people finding better work; calling out “unfair and unjust restrictions imposed on [black workers].”42 Cummings and his family moved to 1234 Druid Hill Avenue in 1898. The Councilman’s sister, noted educator Ida Rebecca Cummings, continued to live in the house up until the 1950s, but Cummings, his wife Blanche Teresa Conklin and their two children, Louise Virginia and Harry Cummings Jr., moved again to 1318 Druid Hill Avenue in 1911 where Cummings lived up until his death in 1917.43

While unable to overturn the system of segregation, individuals could still work to improve the material conditions of life for themselves, their families, and neighbors. For example, in 1894, Dr. J. Marcus Cargill helped found Provident Hospital—the first hospital in Baltimore employing Black doctors and nurses—with 10 beds located in a small house at 419 Orchard Street. Less than two years later, the hospital moved into a larger house at 413 W. Biddle Street. In the late 1920s, the hospital managed to raise funds to purchase and remodel the former Union Protestant Infirmary building erected in 1859 at Division and Mosher Streets. Albert I. Cassell, a noted Black architect who served as the University Architect for Howard University, drafted plans to remodel the building. Finally, on October 15, 1928, Provident Hospital opened at the new location on Division Street.44 Unfortunately, after the hospital vacated the building for a new facility on Liberty Heights Avenue in the late 1960s, the building suffered a severe fire and the city ordered the building’s demolition in 1972.45

During this period, Black women also took on key leadership roles as both volunteers and paid staff to philanthropic groups and mutual aid organizations. For example, in 1896, a group of Black women in Baltimore founded the Colored Young Women’s Christian Association (CYWCA), joining a national movement gathered under the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs to promote “racial uplift.”46 In 1902, the CYWCA opened a facility in a corner rowhouse at 1200 Druid Hill Avenue.

After the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904, Ida R. Cummings and other members of the CYWCA established the Colored Empty Stocking and Fresh Air Circle organized to support Black dependent children.47 The Empty Stocking Circle served as a Black counterpart to a charity led by local white women to make Christmas special for Baltimore’s poor children. The “group hosted events at churches, including St. John A.M.E. Church and Union Baptist Church, and often drew more than 1,000 people. The Freeman reported on the group’s successful fundraising and expanding programs in 1908:

The Colored Empty Stocking and Fresh Air Circle, at Baltimore, which held a street carnival on Druid Hill avenue, Lanvale, Etting and Dolphin streets, last week, have used the proceeds of the sales to purchase a farm on the Emory Groves car line, near Reisterstown. The farm consists of a large dwelling, where the little ones will be entertained during the summer, and ten and one-half acres of ground.48

The Women’s Cooperative Civic League formed in 1913 with a broader mission to “address housing, health, sanitation, and educational problems resulting from the rapid urban growth” in Black neighborhoods. The organization was led by Sara Collins Fernandis, a Black social worker who lived at 953 Druid Hill Avenue for over 17 years. The Civic League divided responsibility for different wards of the city among a core group of volunteers and grew their membership to reach 130 people by 1914.49

A national resurgence of the antebellum lyceum movement led many members of Baltimore’s Black middle class to form literary societies. For example, in 1906, Amelia Johnson and others formed a Baltimore chapter of the Du Bois Circle, a women’s auxiliary created to support the Niagara Movement organized by W. E. B. Du Bois and William Trotter. With a mission of “social uplift and higher literary attainment,” the group organized regular meetings for discussion on both literature and current issues affecting the city’s Black residents. Like the Empty Stocking Circle, literary societies also played a meaningful role in sharing political opinions, providing mutual aid for Black neighbors, and organizing their resistance to Jim Crow in Baltimore during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. As one summary of Baltimore’s civic, literary, and mutual aid associations noted, such groups worked with “limited funds and an all-black membership” and “accomplished much in spite of seemingly insurmountable opposition.”50

In her study of women at Sharp Street United Methodist Church, Felicia L. Jamison attributes the rise of female leadership to their role in raising the money to pay down a $70,000 debt for the new church building the congregation completed in 1898.51 By December 1920, the congregation burned its mortgage documents, then quickly shifted their attention to the construction of the church’s Community House: “a church-affiliated community center that housed young and poverty stricken women, and offered professional classes to the Baltimore black community.”52 A year earlier, in 1919, under the leadership of Rev. M. J. Naylor, Sharp Street Church established a community program that “included a kindergarten, a day nursery, and an employment bureau.”53 The new facility enabled the church to build on this foundation with a new $85,000 community center. The Community House Annual Report for 1921–1922 describes the center’s mission as seeking to “provide a higher civic and social life, to institute and maintain educational and philanthropic enterprises and to investigate and improve conditions generally through co-operation with other social agencies.”54

Uplift and electoral politics were not the only approaches activists employed in this period. Activists also focused on the need to build and support Black communities independent of racist white institutions. Under Rev. Harvey Johnson’s leadership, for example, Union Baptist Church (B-2965) withdrew from the Maryland Baptist Union Association in 1892 in response to unequal salaries for Black pastors and unequal authority for the Black churches belonging to the religious association.55 Five years later, in September 1897, Johnson delivered a speech in Boston, entitled “A Plea For Our Work As Colored Baptists, Apart From the Whites,” that criticized white churches for their failure to acknowledge the equality of Black co-religionists: “Why is the proposition never made to us of the necessity of co-operating in the work of abating the many forms of legal and socially oppressive laws and customs now in vogue all over the country, both North and South?”56

In 1898, Rev. Johnson organized the Colored Baptist Convention of Maryland. Historian Bettye Collier-Thomas has noted Johnson’s close relationship with W. E. B. Du Bois in this period and suggested that Johnson “willingly shared twenty years of experience, strategy development and know-how with the founders” of the Niagara Movement.57 Harvey and Amelia Johnson both used their writing to speak out against racist ideas and the people who sought to promote them. In her introduction to Rev. Johnson’s book, Amelia exhorted Black Americans to “search out, examine, reject and deny the wretched misrepresentations” of Black people as inferior.58

Many activist groups were established during this period, but some proved more difficult to sustain, including two organizations associated with Trinity Baptist Church (B-2970). One example is the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL), first established in 1914 in Ohio by Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican-born activist. James Robert Lincoln Diggs, educator and pastor at Trinity Baptist Church beginning around early 1915, helped establish the Baltimore chapter of the UNIA-ACL in 1918, and later presided over Garvey’s 1922 marriage to Amy Jacques Garvey.59 Trinity Baptist Church also hosted the 1920 annual convention for the National Equal Rights League from October 20 to October 22. The conference was presided over by Rev. J. H. Taylor, secretary of the Maryland Association for Social Service, with speakers including founding member Monroe Trotter, lawyer Nathan S. Taylor from Chicago, and Trinity’s own Rev. Diggs.60 By 1922, the UNIA chapter was directed by Rev. J. J. Cranston and had an office at 1917 Pennsylvania Avenue.61

By the 1920s, both organizations were in decline—the National Equal Rights League had lost much of its membership to the NAACP. The UNIA quickly declined in size and prominence after the 1925 arrest of founder Marcus Garvey and his deportation to Jamaica two years later.

Fraternal organizations were an emerging center of political power and organizing. Black fraternal organizations in this period provided economic support for their members, typically in the form of insurance, but also played a critical role in supporting nascent civil rights activism with their large membership. A joint meeting of Black mutual aid societies in Baltimore in 1884 turned out 40 organizations with a combined membership of 2,100 people. By 1900, the city had over 70 mutual aid societies for Black Baltimoreans—groups whose membership dues supported the purchase of halls and meeting spaces, burial costs for members, and social events throughout the year.62 One example is Baltimore’s chapter of the United Order of Moses located at 527 Orchard Street. Established in 1868, the United Order of Moses had chapters in cities throughout the country. Some of these groups shared space with political organizations, such as when the Samaritan Temple at Calvert and Saratoga Streets hosted a “Colored Republican Mass-Meeting” in June 1884.63

Party Politics and Voter Disenfranchisement: 1900s

Black political power in the late nineteenth century was undermined by the racism of the local Republican Party and gerrymandering by the Democratic Party to limit the influence of Black voters. Black voters made up a small share of Baltimore’s total even after the addition of Black women to the pool of eligible voters following the ratification the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. Outside of Baltimore City, the Democratic Party used a variety of strategies to illegally disenfranchise white and Black Republican voters. In November 1901, the Sun reported how “fully ten thousand ballots of legitimate voters” had been “thrown out on the most frivolous excuses.” For Baltimore City, however, pre-printed ballots meant only few ballots were “thrown out on the account of disfiguration or other inaccuracies.”64 Closer scrutiny by members of the Republican City Committee and Black voters may also have played a role in limiting the flagrant violations of voter’s rights found elsewhere in Maryland.

Disenfranchisement efforts spread across the country after Mississippi passed a new state constitution in 1890 that disenfranchised Black voters (the so-called “Mississippi Plan”), by creating barriers to voter registration and firearm ownership. White legislators and voters in Delaware, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri all enacted similar policies around this time.65 Frustrated by their electoral defeat in 1895, Maryland Democrats sought to undermine the Republican Party by disenfranchising Black voters. Maryland voters went to the polls three times in the early 1900s to consider the issue and vote on the Poe Amendment (1905), the Strauss Amendment (1908) and the Digges Amendment (1910), all of which threatened to eliminate the right to vote for thousands of Black Marylanders by restricting the right to vote based on ancestry and property ownership.

A coalition of Black activists and recent European immigrants worked together under the banner of the Maryland Suffrage League to defeat all three proposals. Although Black women were not yet allowed to vote, the disenfranchisement campaigns drew just as strong opposition from women as from men. In 1905, Rev. Alexander at Sharon Baptist Church (B-4441) at 1373 Stricker Street wrote to the Afro-American calling for Black women to join the fight:

We also appeal to colored women to do their part. The advocates of the Poe-amendment are urging the white women to help them and since the object of the amendment is to deprive colored men of civil and political liberties, colored women ought to do what they can to defeat it.66

A mass meeting of around 100 women at the Perkins Square Baptist Church (later demolished for the construction of George B. Murphy Homes) in October rallied opposition to the amendment.67 White Republican party leaders, including prominent Baltimore lawyer Charles J. Bonaparte, also played a role in rallying opposition to these proposals. Historian Jane L. Phelps noted Bonaparte’s opposition to the Poe and Strauss Amendments in 1905 and 1908.68 Ultimately opponents to the disenfranchisement campaign succeeded, defeating the Poe Amendment with 104,286 to 70,227 votes in 1905 and the Strauss Amendment 106,069 to 98,808 votes in 1908. An even more definitive vote defeated the Digges Amendment by a margin of 38,000 votes in 1910.69

While the campaigns against Black voter disenfranchisement prevailed, the influence of Black voters on local electoral politics was still limited. In 1900, Black men made up 15% of the voting-age population and 15% of registered voters. By 1932, Black men and women made up 16% of the population but only 12% of the registered voters.70 It is notable, however, that Black representation was never absent from the Baltimore City Council in the 1910s and early 1920s, as Black voters in the city’s Fourteenth and Seventeenth wards elected a series of Black Republicans to the City Council including Harry S. Cummings, Warner T. McGuinn, and Walter Emerson.71

Suffrage and Black Women Organizing: 1890s–1920s

The ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920 marked a new era for the civil rights movement in Baltimore and around the country. However, winning the right to vote was just one of the ways that Black women grew in power and visibility as activists and organizers during this period. The opportunities Black women won through their own activism and political victories helped shape the movement throughout the twentieth century.

The Black women advocating for women’s suffrage encountered unique challenges. Following the 1890 merger of the National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), the national suffrage movement began to systematically exclude Black women in a bid to win more support from Southern white women and political leaders. The growing segregation of the suffrage movement encouraged the organization of independent groups for Black women, beginning with the Colored Women’s League in Washington, DC, in June 1892. In 1896, the Colored Women’s League merged with the National Federation of African American Women to form the National Association of Colored Women.

A number of white-led suffragist organizations, including NAWSA led by Carrie Chapman Catt and the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage (later known as the National Woman’s Party) led by Alice Paul, sought to build support for women’s suffrage among southern white political leaders by arguing that suffrage for women would not challenge the white supremacist agenda of disenfranchising Black voters.72 Maryland suffragists similarly faced stiff opposition among state legislators. Local white women’s suffrage groups, such as Bassie Ellicott’s Equal Suffrage League of Baltimore and Emma Maddox Funck’s Maryland Suffrage Association, supported the continued disenfranchisement of Black women voters in Maryland. For example, in March 1909, white Baltimore suffragist Edith Houghton Hooker hosted a meeting where Rev. Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, president of the NAWSA, spoke. The Sun reported:

That all the leaders in the movement for woman suffrage do not extend their desire for women to vote to include all “colored sisters” was made evident last night by the two most conspicuous figures at the meeting of the Equal Suffrage League of Baltimore, in Friends’ Meeting House, on Park Avenue.73

During the 1912 campaign for a statewide bill to grant women’s suffrage in Maryland, an editorial in the Afro-American observed how white women sought to deny suffrage to Black women calling it a “play to the galleries seeking to catch the favor of a few Negro haters in the legislature at Annapolis.”74

Black women, however, would not be excluded from politics or civil rights activism. In 1906, reflecting on the organization of the “Federation of colored women of Baltimore and in the State of Maryland,” J. T. Jenifer wrote to the Afro-American to argue that the organization, “will be a combined moral handmaid in the influence and aid of the Suffrage League, Niagara Movement, and Civic Councils, in every effort against jimcrowism, disenfranchisement and in every effort in race redemption, civil rights and uplift.”75 Black women also organized to support the Republican Party in 1911, as the Afro-American reported:

For the first time in the political history of Maryland, the Negro women of the city have been organized into a campaign committee for the purpose of working for the success of the Republican ticket.

A new “Auxiliary Republican Committee” met at 414 W. Hoffman Street. The group, chaired by Rev. Ernest Lyon, former US Ambassador to Liberia and minister at Ames Methodist Episcopal Church, allied with the Anti-Digges Amendment League, an organization of “several hundred Negro women” led by president Eliza Cummings, mother of City Councilman Harry S. Cummings.76

In response to this pattern of exclusion by white suffrage organizations, Estelle Hall Young, a Black civic reformer, founded the Woman’s Suffrage Club in 1915. Young had studied under W. E. B. Du Bois in Atlanta and later moved to Baltimore and married Dr. Howard E. Young, a prominent Black pharmacist. The Young household lived at 1100 Druid Hill Avenue, close to club leaders Margaret Gregory Hawkins and Augusta T. Chissell who lived in neighboring houses at 1532 and 1534 Druid Hill Avenue. In December 1915, the Woman’s Suffrage Club held the first in a series of mass meetings at Grace Presbyterian Church with activist Alice Dunbar as the featured guest speaker. The club continued to host public meetings at local churches, using advertisements in the Afro-American to publicize their events.77

When the House of Representatives voted on an earlier version of the women’s suffrage amendment in 1915, four members of the Maryland delegation voted against the proposal citing the enfranchisement of Black women as the rationale for their opposition.78 In 1919, when the Senate considered the Nineteenth Amendment, Maryland’s Senators split over the issue with the state’s Democratic Senator voting against and the Republican Senator voting in favor. When the measure came before the Maryland legislature for ratification on February 24, 1920, it was rejected again due to opposition to granting Black women the vote. Despite Maryland’s rejection of the measure, the Nineteenth Amendment won support in 36 states, and, with the amendment’s approval in Tennessee on August 18, it became part of the US Constitution on August 26, 1920.

Black Baltimoreans quickly turned to the task of registering women to vote that fall. The Women’s Suffrage Club held weekly meetings at the YWCA at 1200 Druid Hill Avenue urging Black women to register at the polls on the earliest possible date: September 21, 1920. Estelle Young saw voting, in part, as one way to challenge the prejudice deployed against Black women during the recent suffrage debate, saying:

We women are especially bitter against the type of white politicians who said that we would not know a ballot if we saw one coming up the street. We must register in order to vote, and we must vote in order to rebuke these politicians.79

On November 2, 1920, women voted for first time in Maryland, and, in 1921, the Women’s Suffrage League of Maryland affiliated with the recently formed League of Women Voters of the United States.80

Homes and Neighborhoods

Once evenly distributed throughout the city, by the turn of the twentieth century Baltimore’s Black population had concentrated into segregated Black areas. As Black households were displaced by industrial and commercial development in the downtown areas and excluded from growing suburban districts, distinct Black neighborhoods emerged in older neighborhoods west and east of downtown.

Development of a Segregated Black Community: 1880s–1900s

Baltimore’s dramatic political and social changes during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century not only coincided with, but, in large part, promoted the residential segregation of Black residents and the creation of segregated Black neighborhoods. Even as late as 1880, the city’s Black population could be found distributed evenly over three-quarters of Baltimore’s 20 wards and eight districts. By 1890, however, the largest share of Black Baltimoreans lived in the Eleventh Ward, an area roughly contained within the present boundaries of W. Franklin Street, Park Avenue, Preston Street, and Myrtle Avenue, where over 11,000 of the 21,269 residents were identified as “colored” (making the ward over 50% black). By 1904, the city’s Northwestern District (which included the Eleventh Ward) held more than 40% of Baltimore’s over 81,000 Black residents.81

The movement of Black households was in part due to their displacement for the expansion of the B&O railroad yards around Camden Station in the 1900s, the development of War Memorial Plaza east of Baltimore City Hall, and the construction of Preston Gardens on St. Paul Street in the 1910s, among other projects. Black households that could afford to move to northwest Baltimore also were able to avoid the poor housing and sanitation conditions found in the city’s older neighborhoods around the harbor. At the same time, in the fast-growing suburban neighborhoods at the edges of the city, builders sold houses with the implicit or explicit promise of excluding Black residents. This sprawling suburban development was made possible by the expansion of electric streetcar service in the 1890s and 1910s, the creation of a much-needed new sanitary sewer system in 1915, and the annexation of a large area of Baltimore County in 1918.

Reduced demand from white households created an opportunity for Black households looking to move into previously segregated areas. Anne McMechen, attorney George McMechen’s wife, later explained her family’s aspirations for their purchase of a McCulloh Street house: “we wanted to be more comfortable—a right I think everyone has to exercise.”82 Black Baltimoreans who could afford to move left the formerly “aristocratic St. Paul street section,” south Baltimore, and east Baltimore for the northwest area.83 The Old West Baltimore Historic District (B-1373) encompasses much of the area sought after by affluent and middle class Black residents during this period.

Historian Willard B. Gatewood described Baltimore’s “relatively well-to-do… aristocracy of color,” writing:

A black editor calculated in 1890 that about twenty individuals in the city’s black community collectively represented a wealth of approximately $500,000. The wealthiest, John Locks, was said to be worth $75,000. Many of those included in Baltimore’s black economic elite derived their wealth from catering, barbering, hod-carrying, brick-making, and caulking. … Many of these individuals invested in real estate, so that by the turn of the century their heirs were often among the wealthiest blacks in the city.84

The depth of this Black middle class is illustrated by the numbers of lawyers, business owners, educators, school administrators, religious leaders, and civic organizations listed in the first edition of the Colored Business Directory published by Robert W. Coleman in partnership with his wife, Mary Mason, beginning in 1914.

Industrial and commercial development around the harbor, the destruction of over 1,500 buildings in the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904, and the city’s subsequent work to widen downtown streets also contributed to the displacement of Black residents in the city center. Rev. Levi Coppin, pastor of Bethel A.M.E. Church from 1881 to 1883, called out the condition around their 1847 sanctuary in 1881: “Bethel could not remain indefinitely in Saratoga St., among the iron foundries and hold a leading place among the Churches.” The congregation ignored its pastor’s entreaties to move until 1909 when the city condemned their building to make way for a wider Saratoga Street forcing the church to relocate to northwest Baltimore in January 1911.85 In contrast to Bethel’s delayed move, some residents experienced more sudden and brutal displacements. In 1905, the B&O Railroad began buying up property in the area surrounding Camden Station.86 Two years later, in June 1907, after a court injunction blocking the demolition of a three-story tenement at 912 Sharp Street ran out, the B&O Railroad gave the Black residents just 30 minutes notice before they started tearing down their building.87

White landlords in the newly segregated Black neighborhoods in northwest Baltimore extracted as much rent as they could from the growing number of Black tenants. In January 1915, the Afro-American reported on the premium white landlords charged. The account suggested that Black tenants on Argyle Avenue, Myrtle Avenue, and McCulloh, Lanvale, and Stricker Streets all paid at least 20% more than the white households that had previously lived there. Black residents looking to buy a home had their own unjust obstacles to overcome including exploitative rent-to-own schemes. The Afro-American concluded their report on segregation and housing conditions for Black Baltimoreans, with the observation: “A restricted residence area for the race tickles the whims of some of the whites, makes other whites rich and impoverishes the colored people who have, like the Jews in Russia, to live within the pale.”88

Similar to those Black residents moving into homes formerly occupied by white households, Black congregations moved into formerly white churches. After their displacement on Saratoga Street, for example, Bethel A.M.E. Church moved into the 1868 building of St. Peter’s Protestant Episcopal Church (B-123) located at Druid Hill and Lafayette Avenues. The speakers at the opening services included William T. Vernon, an A.M.E. church leader and Republican-appointed Register of the Treasury, who spoke on the “Birth of a New Freedom,” declaring: “What the Negro desires in this country is the same law to govern him as govern the white man, or in other words, a square deal.” The next address came from James P. Matthews, an old member of the St. Peter’s congregation that originally erected the church, reflecting on the “uptown” movement of white and Black churches and reassured the assembled congregation that the City Council’s efforts to enact a segregation ordinance would not be able to exclude members who sought to “acquire homes within easy reach of the church.”89

A smaller number of congregations built new sanctuaries using services from white builders and architects. Examples include St. Peter Claver Catholic Church (B-4443), built at Fremont and Pennsylvania Avenues in 1888, and Union Baptist Church (B-2965), built on Druid Hill Avenue in 1905. Sharp Street Church (B-2963) purchased an existing church at Dolphin and Etting Streets but then tore it down in 1892 to erect the new building that still stands today.

Year of move Church Prior location New location
1888 St. Peter Claver Catholic Church Calvert and Pleasant Streets Fremont and Pennsylvania Avenues
1898 Sharp Street Church Sharp and Pratt Streets Dolphin and Etting Streets
1901 St. James Episcopal Church Lexington Street and Guilford Avenue Park Avenue and Preston Street
1905 Union Baptist Church Guilford Avenue between Saratoga and Lexington Streets Druid Hill Avenue and Dolphin Street
1911 Bethel A.M.E. Church Saratoga and Gay Streets Druid Hill Avenue and Lanvale Street

Table: Examples of Black congregations relocating to northwest Baltimore.

By the late 1920s, the area occupied by Black residents, churches, and schools in west Baltimore included most of the neighborhoods now known as Madison Park, Upton, Druid Heights, Harlem Park, and Sandtown-Winchester. In 1926, the Afro-American recalled the rapid changes residents had witnessed since the beginning of the century:

The Baltimores’ “Who’s Who” has been constantly moving northwest in the city during the last 25 years… Although a few prominent families still live in the South and Northeast Baltimore, the bulk of the population now resides in that section of the city known as Northwest Baltimore. […] Oxford and Orchard streets once housed many of Baltimore’s colored four hundred. Even Sara Ann Street, now one of the most dilapidated and one of the worst streets in the entire city, once boasted the names of now prominent families.90

In east Baltimore, a similar transition took place in the late 1920s and early 1930s. In 1929, the white Episcopalian Church of the Holy Innocents sold its building to the Black Grace Baptist Church (B-5145-4) and, in 1931, Baltimore’s oldest Black Roman Catholic congregation—St. Francis Xavier—purchased the 1867 Madison Square M.E. Church (B-3973).91

Excluding Black Tenants and Homeowners: 1890s–1920s

White residents, elected officials, and developers used a wide variety of approaches to create and maintain segregated white neighborhoods. When mob violence proved an inadequate deterrent, white residents demanded municipal segregation ordinances to enlist help from the police in excluding Black owners and tenants. When Black lawyers used the courts to overturn the segregation ordinances, white property owners turned to restrictive covenants and exclusion through physical design. These and other approaches were difficult for Black activists to overcome and turned housing segregation an intractable challenge throughout the twentieth century.

White Violence and Racial Segregation Ordinances: 1890s–1917

The many documented examples of attacks on Black households in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries suggest that physical violence played an important role in the exclusion of Black residents from many Baltimore neighborhoods.92 One early documented incident took place in late August 1899. Just one day after John Lang, a 55-year-old Black construction worker, and his family moved to 1805 Druid Hill Avenue, crowds of white boys and young men threw a barrage of stones and bricks at the back the building. The attack broke all of the home’s rear windows and forced Lang’s wife and children to “shut themselves in a room” for safety.93 The Lang household was the only “colored” family on the block (the next nearest Black family reportedly lived south of Lanvale Street).

The attack followed sustained efforts by local leaders to encourage opposition to Black housing opportunity and political power. Just a few months earlier white Democrats in the Fourteenth Ward had rallied at nearby Solmson’s Hall on Fremont Avenue where participants heard William B. Redgrave open the meeting by complaining about the “dismal atmosphere” of “negro domination,” and Charles C. Rhodes, a local lawyer and magistrate, claiming that the growth of the city’s Black population threatened to “depreciate the value of property.”94

Attacks on homes owned or occupied by Black households continued in the early 1900s and 1910s. In May 1902, after Black tenants rented a home at 1705 Druid Hill Avenue, assailants smashed three of the front windows with potatoes and poured cans of sticky tar onto the home’s white marble steps and window sills.95 In September 1910, similar attacks took place at 1802 and 1804 McCulloh Street. In September 1913, a group of white men attacked the house 1324 Mosher Street one day after a Black family moved in. The attack provoked a crowd of young Black men to respond in kind by throwing stones at other nearby houses and the ensuing fight resulted in the injury of five people (including a police officer).96 The attacks likely continued, in part, because the police rarely intervened and the penalties for white residents who assaulted Black neighbors were light to non-existent. For example, in 1911 two young white men in southeast Baltimore encountered a Black man, Lacy Stubling, sitting in a doorway at 18 S. Spring Street, called him a racial slur, and then beat him “almost into insensibility.” One was sentenced to 30 days in jail and the other only 20 days.97

A comic showing a group of white men throwing stones at a rowhouse labeled ‘Home of a Colored Citizen’ while a police officer stands by ignoring the crowd from the Afro-American newspaper, September 27, 1913. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

For years, white advocates of racial segregation had sought to pass legislation to make it illegal to rent or sell to Black households in areas of existing white occupancy—and, of course, to enlist the police in enforcing the law. On December 19, 1910, Mayor James Preston signed this long-sought policy into law, making it the first municipal law to require racially segregated housing in the United States. Known commonly as the West Ordinance after Councilman Samuel T. West who fought for the policy, white residents in northwest Baltimore began advocating for the bill just weeks after W. Ashbie Hawkins purchased a house at 1834 McCulloh Street and rented it to his law partner George F. McMechen. The new ordinance prohibited Black Baltimoreans like McMechen from buying or living in houses on blocks like the 1800 block of McCulloh Street where a majority of existing occupants were white. It further prohibited white Baltimoreans from moving into blocks that were largely black.98

Within a month of the bill coming into effect, 26 cases were brought before local courts. While most of these cases involved Black people seeking to move to excluded blocks, a few involved white residents. One white woman, Mrs. Kate Koller, was charged in January 1911 after she moved to 602 Arch Street, despite having lived in the house next door for several years. Reportedly, the complaint was made by “colored residents in the block” possibly seeking a fair application of an unfair law and potentially to highlight the absurdity of the policy.99 According to historian Bruce Thompson, in the very first case to reach the courts, the judge “ruled that the law was invalid because it was drawn incorrectly.”100

After the first ordinance was overturned, the City Council passed a second segregation ordinance on April 7, 1911. However, the Council quickly identified a potential legal issue with the law, so they replaced it with yet another segregation ordinance on May 15. The new law was entitled:

an ordinance for preserving peace, preventing conflict and ill feeling between the white and colored races in Baltimore city, and promoting the general welfare of the city by providing, so far as practicable, for the use of separate blocks by white and colored people for residences, churches and schools.101

In June 1913, W. Ashbie Hawkins, a local Black lawyer living at 529 Presstman Street, went to court to defend Rev. John H. Gurry, the Black pastor of King's Apostle Holy Temple. Gurry faced criminal charges for moving his church to 581 Laurens Street—what the police called a “white block” under the segregation law. In June, Hawkins won Gurry’s case and overturned the segregation ordinance again.

Undeterred, the City Council passed yet another replacement segregation in November 1913. It wasn’t until four years later, in 1917, that the US Supreme Court decision in Buchanan v. Warley overturned a similar ordinance in Louisville, Kentucky, and ruled municipal segregation laws unconstitutional.102 According to historian Dennis Halpin, Black Baltimoreans’ “resistance to the ordinances remade the city’s racial geography.” However, white residents also persisted in their efforts and Black activists “struggled to challenge the strategies segregationists used in the wake of the laws’ demise.”103

Deed Restrictions and Exclusion by Design: 1890s–1920s

Deed restrictions, racist practices by professional realtors, and racialized urban design and planning (described by some as “clearance and containment”) all contributed to the persistence of segregation even after the 1917 Buchanan v. Warley decision. Historian Dennis Doster suggests that the national NAACP’s later advocacy around residential segregation has roots in their legal fight over segregation in Baltimore.104

Outside of the exceptional cases of Morgan Park and Wilson Park, local builders and developers almost never erected new homes for Black buyers in the first half of the twentieth century. Indeed, builders selling new homes to white Baltimoreans proudly advertised deed restrictions that prohibited Black people from buying or occupying property within their development. In other cases, white residents organized to encourage neighbors to sign covenants and pressure property owners to refuse to sell or rent to Black households. Some of the city’s most notable examples of racial exclusion are the neighborhoods built by the Roland Park Company, including Roland Park (B-136, established in 1891), Guilford (B-3654, established in 1913) and Homeland (B-1336, established in 1924).

Historian Paige Glotzer has studied how the Roland Park Company “used deed restrictions as the cornerstone of a broader attempt to manufacture a dichotomy between suburban and urban space in order to sell a new spatial and social arrangement to a status-conscious white middle class.”105 Ultimately, these north Baltimore neighborhoods served as models of racial exclusion for developers nationwide. Home developers around the country regularly requested copies of the restrictions as they sought to emulate the Roland Park Company’s approach to racial exclusion. Glotzer credits the National Association of Real Estate Boards (NAREB) with supporting the national distribution of discriminatory practices. For example, in 1924, the revised NAREB code of ethics explicitly prohibited realtors from “introducing into a neighborhood a character of property or occupancy, members of any race or nationality, or any individual whose presence will clearly be detrimental to property values in that neighborhood.”106

A sign on Greenway commemorating the groundbreaking of Guilford’s 667th house on January 17, 1930. Courtesy Sheridan Libraries Special Collections, Johns Hopkins University.

When deed restrictions were not enough to isolate white communities, the Roland Park Company also established physical boundaries between its developments and nearby properties occupied by Black Baltimoreans. For example, the company planted “a long hedge to cut off sightlines of a predominantly black settlement down the hill” before later placing a “sewage disposal field” at the same location.107 Evidence of exclusion by design is still visible in Baltimore where physical barriers and one-way streets separate the neighborhoods of Homeland and Guilford from the predominantly Black neighborhoods on the east side of York Road.

Many older neighborhoods in Baltimore could not create new physical barriers like the Roland Park Company, but they could use racial covenants. In January 1924, 200 members of six west Baltimore “protective associations” met to fight the movement of Black households into their neighborhoods. Residents gathered at Fulton Avenue Presbyterian Church located at Fulton Avenue and Monroe Street and listened to Dr. C. P. Woodward, Councilman for the Fifth District, defend the necessity of exclusionary organizations:

The principal function of any organization is to acquire everything of benefit to the community and to keep away everything undesirable. It is a pity that law-abiding citizens who do not receive sufficient protection from the law to keep out undesirables must form protective associations to do so.108

The meeting sparked a campaign to seek signed commitments promising to refuse all Black buyers from 1,600 property owners in the blocks bounded by North Avenue, Pennsylvania Avenue and Bentalou Street. The Afro-American summarized the sentiment at the meeting: “Negroes should be put in a bag and pitched overboard.”109

The racist panic by their white neighbors prompted Black Baltimoreans to renew organizing efforts but to limited effect. A new Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance was formed with a meeting on January 14, 1924, at Union Baptist Church. The group established a “civic committee” led by Rev. D. G. Mack to aid in a “crusade against segregation.”110 That same month, the state legislature established a new Inter-Racial Commission with a mix of 13 white and eight Black members “to consider legislation concerning welfare of the colored people of Maryland.”111 From the outset, however, Black critics saw the commission as an inadequate response to the city’s challenges. In February, the Afro-American called out the Inter-Racial Commission for their “dominant desire… to preserve good feelings between the races” that led the members to avoid any statement explaining “plainly whether it is for or against segregation.” The editorial concluded that the ongoing efforts by white residents to prevent “Negro invasion” as a “phase of segregation” even “more insidious and dangerous than an effort to legalize it for it is being nurtured and kept alive by the worst kind of racial hatred.”112

Proponents may have relied on violence and racial hatred because their efforts to use the courts to promote segregation were less successful. For example, in 1918, a group of white residents in Lauraville attempted to have the circuit court in Towson revoke the 1917 sale of the Ivy Mill property to Morgan College (formerly the Centenary Biblical Institute, now Morgan State University). The court dismissed the case. Lauraville residents appealed but the state court upheld the lower court’s decision.113 The Morgan Park (B-5316) neighborhood next to the new campus slowly developed into a Black residential neighborhood with homes for Morgan College faculty and administrators along with notable individuals including W. E. B. Du Bois and Dr. Carl J. Murphy.114

Photograph of Carnegie Hall at Morgan College (now Morgan State University) by Jackson Davis, November 3, 1921. Courtesy University of Virginia, 330943.

Morgan Park wasn’t the only Black community developed in northeast Baltimore. The development of nearby Wilson Park began in 1917, when Harry O. Wilson Sr., a wealthy Black businessman and banker, purchased several parcels of land in northeast Baltimore near Cold Spring Lane and the Alameda (some of which had already been subdivided by the Huntingdon Building Company). Wilson advertised in the Afro-American offering 200 lots and six cottages “with all conveniences,” including hot water, heat, electric lights and large front porches, available in a community “open to our race.” Building lots started at $300 and completed cottages were listed for $1,600.115 For a wealthier group of Black residents, Wilson Park became an elite enclave. By the 1920s, Wilson Park homeowners included lawyers William Ashbie Hawkins, George W. F. McMechen, and Rev. Garnett Russell Waller, the national NAACP’s first vice-president and Wilson’s father-in-law.116

Urban Reform Efforts and the Great Migration: 1900s–1920s

In the early twentieth century, participants in a growing urban reform movement—including both white- and black-led community groups concerned about housing, sanitation, public health, and social conditions—began to explore new approaches to addressing racial and class inequalities. The Great Migration of Black Americans from rural communities in the south to northern cities prompted debates over how to address the poverty and poor housing these new residents experienced. In New York City, these pressing concerns inspired a group of reformers to establish the Committee on Urban Conditions Among Negroes (later known as the National Urban League) on September 29, 1910.

Concern around urban housing and sanitation centered, in part, on the risk of contagious diseases such as tuberculosis. The local interest in these issues is illustrated by the white-led housing reform efforts focused on conditions in segregated Black neighborhoods in the 1890s and 1900s. Streets and Slums: A Study in Local Municipal Geography (1892) by Frederick Brown was the first in a series of influential studies on the relationship between housing, health, and municipal policies. Two years later, in 1894, Carroll D. Wright, a white statistician who served as the US Commissioner of Labor between 1885 and 1905, submitted a report to Congress titled The Slums of Baltimore, Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia. Most famously, in 1907, a white social worker, Janet Kemp, wrote a report entitled Housing Conditions in Baltimore for the Association for the Improvement of the Condition of the Poor and the Charity Organization Society.117

In contrast to northern and Midwestern cities, like New York, Chicago, and Cleveland, where the Great Migration brought large numbers of Black migrants from the deep South, Baltimore was largely a destination for Black migrants from Maryland and Virginia. In 1910, 87% of the city’s Black population was native to Maryland and migrants from Virginia made up the largest share (8.7%) of those born outside of the state. In 1920, the share of native Marylanders declined to 76%, but was still a sharp contrast with Detroit’s 8.4% or Manhattan’s 20.9% of native-born Black residents. Even in 1930, at the outset of the Great Depression, 59.4% of Baltimore’s Black population was born in Maryland.118

White-led reform efforts paralleled, and, at times, responded to Black efforts to address both poverty and discrimination among the city’s Black residents. In 1891, the Brotherhood of Liberty hosted a public meeting with William A. Hunton, the first Black YMCA executive in the United States. By 1893, local organizers succeeded in establishing Baltimore’s Colored Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA).119 The organization grew and erected the Druid Hill Avenue Branch of the YMCA at 1609 Druid Hill Avenue in 1919.120

In the spring of 1898, Rev. Ernest Lyon, pastor of the John Wesley Methodist Episcopal Church and resident at 141 W. Hill Street, delivered a paper, “Mortality Among Colored People,” before the city’s newly formed Ministerial Union to “agitate for the improvement of the condition of the colored people.” Lyon linked the problem of mortality among Black residents in Baltimore to “the unsanitary condition of the section in which they live… inhabited almost exclusively by colored persons.” Lyon argued the city health department took “little pains to give the streets and houses proper attention” in areas occupied by Black residents.121

In 1906, inspired by a 1904 exhibition on tuberculosis in Baltimore that highlighted the concentration of cases in the segregated district in northwest Baltimore, a group of prominent Black lawyers, doctors, ministers, educators, and business leaders established a new organization known as the Colored Law and Order League. Led by Dr. James H. N. Waring, a Black physician and principal of the Colored High School, the group conducted a study looking at the effect of saloons, many owned by white operators, located in close proximity to Black schools in west and east Baltimore. In 1908, the group presented their findings to reformers and religious ministers, including the Ministerial Union and the Colored Ministerial Union. The group described how implicit and explicit discrimination by the Baltimore police and the Liquor License Board had enabled the poor conditions in many Black neighborhoods to develop.122

A map originally captioned: ‘In this district there were forty-two saloons, fifteen churches, twelve schools, one home for old people, one home for friendless children, the colored Y.M.C.A. and the colored Y.W.C.A.’ from the Work of the Colored Law and Order League (1908).

Challenging Employment Discrimination: 1880s–1920s

In the same 1898 speech where he decried the poor housing conditions for Black Baltimoreans, Rev. Ernest Lyon also observed how the “exclusion of the colored men from labor organizations” forced Black workers to accept low wages making it even more difficult to purchase decent food and housing. The issues of housing and neighborhood conditions at the center of late nineteenth and early twentieth century reform efforts were closely related to employment discrimination. Prejudice by white employers, segregated unions, and a range of official and unofficial policies barred Black men and women in Baltimore from a wide range of public and private employment opportunities.

White elected officials not only avoided any effort to limit racial discrimination against Black workers, white Democrats even exploited racist anxieties over integrated workplaces as a means to undermine support for Republicans among white voters. In October 1889, while considering an ordinance to regulate hiring by the city commissioner’s office, the City Council only narrowly avoided adding an amendment by Councilman D. Meredith Reese to limit employment to “white citizens” only. In explaining his proposal, Reese opposed “mingling white and colored men in work,” arguing the “colored workman is not equal to the white workman,” and, when his colleagues questioned the constitutionality of the amendment, Reese argued that the Fourteenth Amendment did not apply to Baltimore City.123

Discrimination in public employment was uniquely frustrating to Black Baltimoreans after a Republican mayoral administration took office in 1895. Despite Black voters making up an estimated one-third of the city’s Republicans, by 1898, the only Black workers appointed by Mayor Alcaeus Hooper were three Black street department superintendents who supervised segregated teams of Black laborers. A sharp editorial in the Afro-American pointed out the striking contrast with the six or seven hundred white people appointed to city jobs.124

Most Black workers in Baltimore and many other cities had been excluded from the broader national labor movement. One of the few national unions for Black workers, the Colored National Labor Union, collapsed around 1871 and no other group had replaced it. One difficulty for Black workers was segregation of local union chapters. One of the few unions to challenge this in Baltimore was the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) whose members started organizing Black longshoremen on the east coast in 1917 during World War I. Ben Fletcher, a Black labor leader and organizer for IWW from Philadelphia, organized dockworkers in Baltimore in the late 1910s and early 1920s. Unfortunately, Fletcher was arrested in Pennsylvania and held until 1923.125 Despite such setbacks, current and former IWW members remained active in Baltimore through the Marine Workers League for several more years.126

In the early 1920s, the Baltimore Urban League emerged as one of the most important organizations addressing the issue of employment discrimination. Before Baltimore’s local chapter was officially established, a committee of residents requested assistance from the National Urban League’s Department of Research and Investigations. Beginning in March 1922, the national organization conducted a three-month study of local industry that documented the discrimination and exclusion that Black workers encountered in Baltimore. A full one-third of the 175 industrial plants surveyed for the study (a total of 62 plants employing 20,735 people) refused to hire any Black workers.127

The completion of the study prompted a meeting on May 7, 1924, at the Emmanuel Church Parish House at 1210 W. Lanvale Street, where interested reformers established a new Baltimore chapter for the Urban League.128 The new group, initially directed by R. Maurice Moss, a Black social worker, undertook a wide range of efforts beyond its initial focus on discrimination against Black workers. Over the next few years, the new organization continued their work on employment discrimination while also promoting the development of Provident Hospital; conducting a survey of housing conditions in the area bounded by Druid Hill and Pennsylvania Avenues and Biddle and Preston Streets (the so-called “Lung Block” for its high tuberculosis rate); and organizing a division of the Playground Athletic League for Black residents.129

Schools and Education

Improving education for Black children was a key goal for Black activist groups in this period including the Brotherhood of Liberty, the NAACP, and a variety of ad hoc committees and coalitions that formed to address specific issues. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, many Black Baltimoreans didn’t seek to challenge school segregation but did want to improve the conditions for Black students and teachers. Even these modest goals, however, such as increased funding, equal pay for Black teachers, and improved facilities met with significant resistance. By the turn of the century, activists had won new opportunities for Black educators and challenged unequal pay for teachers, while reformers exposed the persistent inequality of the segregated system.

Black School Buildings and Equal Pay for Black Teachers: 1880s–1910s

At the Brotherhood of Liberty’s first public meeting in the fall of 1885, local residents discussed the importance of hiring Black teachers to work at segregated Black schools and securing better facilities for Black students. Following the meeting, the Brotherhood helped to form a new organization, the Maryland Educational Union, dedicated to these issues. On May 3, 1887, the Maryland Educational Union organized a meeting where they called on Black residents to support “continued agitation” around inequitable education. Their activism won support from three members of the City Council and Mayor Ferdinand C. Latrobe, who authorized the Board of School Commissioners to begin hiring Black teachers.130 Finally, in 1888, Baltimore school officials appointed Roberta B. Sheridan to Annex Colored School No. 1 in Waverly at Brentwood Avenue and Merryman Lane, making her, along with fellow teacher Nannie B. Grooms and school principal George W. Biddle, one of the first Black educators employed by the city’s public schools.131

Overall, the enrollment of Black schools had grown from 901 students at just ten schools in 1867 to 9,383 students at 27 schools in 1900. High school enrollment grew from 18 students when the Colored High and Training School first opened in 1883 to 93 students in 1900. At the time, most of the city’s segregated Black school buildings were originally erected for white students. Of the 18 schools open to Black students in 1900 many were built over 40 years earlier, including School No. 116 at Druid Hill Avenue near Biddle Street (1842); School No. 109 at Fremont and King Streets (1843); and School No. 101 at Jefferson Street near Caroline Street (1855).132 After the school board delayed in creating a new school for Black residents in northwest Baltimore, members of the Maryland Educational Union converted the former Sharon Baptist Church building into a school that soon grew to hold 300 students.133 The school board finally relented, and, despite racist protests from nearby white residents, opened Colored Primary No. 9 (later Public School No. 111) at 1024 N. Carrollton Avenue. When the new school opened in 1889, Roberta Sheridan was among the school’s 12 Black teachers.

However even as the Black student population grew, the number of Black teachers at city schools stagnated—totaling just 35 (compared to 175 white teachers) in 1896. All 35 Black educators worked at the same school—Colored Primary No. 9. The school commissioners barred the hiring of white teachers at any school that already employed Black teachers and simultaneously refused to expand the number of schools employing Black educators.134

Finally, after the decisive Republican electoral victory in 1895, the mayor and City Council took a bill previously introduced by Dr. J. Marcus Cargill, a Black Republican city councilman, and started to slowly convert colored schools from segregated white staffing to segregated Black staffing. After the Democratic party retook control over city government in 1899, the pace of change actually accelerated as part of a broader reorganization of the city school system.135 At beginning of the 1902 school year, the city had over 10,000 students and 166 teachers. One half of Baltimore’s segregated Black schools were staffed entirely by Black teachers. Five years later, in 1907, all of the teachers for the Baltimore City Division of Colored Schools were black.136

Neither Democratic nor Republican administrations, however, did much to improve the limited school facilities where Black teachers worked. Historian Samuel Kelton Roberts noted how most Black schools operated in “cast-off buildings left behind as whites moved to better facilities.” The city erected no new Black schools between 1898 and 1915.137 Instead, the city converted existing school buildings for use by Black students. Examples included the conversion of a 33-year-old school at 1315 Division Street into Public School No. 103 in 1910, which was later attended by a young Thurgood Marshall. In a later example, the former Western High School building (later known as the Booker T. Washington Middle School), erected in 1896 at 1301 McCulloh Street, was converted to house the Coppin Normal School, Colored Junior High School, and offices for the Baltimore colored school administration in 1928.

Frequently, white Baltimoreans opposed the location of Black schools near segregated white neighborhoods or the conversion of segregated white public-school buildings for use by Black students. For example, one resident complained about the presence of Morgan College at Fulton and Edmondson Avenues in a 1913 letter to the Sun.138 In 1915, white residents protested the conversion of the white School No. 39 at Carrollton and Riggs Avenues.139

The most significant victory for improved teacher pay came in June 1925, when the Defense League, a group of Black activist lawyers, won a temporary injunction from a Baltimore court requiring equal salaries for white and Black teachers. While the decision was overturned by a higher court, it prompted a promise from Mayor Howard Jackson in October 1926 to begin offering equal salaries in the 1927 school year.140 In 1929, superintendent Dr. Weglein told the state Interracial Committee that the “city gives colored teachers equal pay and school children equal per capita appropriates.” This was in stark contrast to the rest of the state where the average pay for Black teachers was just $586—about half of the $1,126 paid to white teachers.141

School Policy Reform and the Strayer Survey: 1910s–1920s

School buildings and teacher pay were not the only areas of advocacy. The Maryland State Teachers Association, also known as the Maryland Progressive State Colored Teachers Association, campaigned in 1915 to extend the school year for Black students who had a shorter school year than white students.142 Around the same time, the appointment of James H. Van Sickel, a school reformer from Denver, as Superintendent of the Baltimore schools led to another major change as the city began hiring more Black principals and vice-principals.143

Given the role of white school commissioners in setting school policies, advocates began to fight for the appointment of a Black school commissioner who could champion the issues of unequal pay and lack of training for teachers and the inadequate school buildings where they worked. For example, in 1919, the editors of the Afro-American demanded that Charles Koch, the superintendent of schools, appoint Black leadership to oversee the city’s colored schools. In a response that highlights the racist beliefs of school leadership, Koch responded, “blacks were not far enough developed to have a school board member, but would do well as members of the street cleaning force.”144

Not all white Baltimoreans opposed incremental improvements to the conditions for Black teachers and students. For example, in 1920, white representatives of the Taxpayers Civic League and the Interracial Conference, Mrs. Edward Shoemaker and Dr. Peter Ainslie, appeared before the Board of Estimates to urge making the salaries for Black teachers at the Colored High and Training Schools the same as the salaries at segregated white high schools.145

One important example of the changes that took place in this period was the effort that led to the publication of the Strayer Survey evaluating the condition and management of Baltimore schools, both white and black. The Strayer Survey was a comprehensive look at the problems of Baltimore’s public schools from overcrowded buildings to outdated management practices.146 When the report was published in 1922, it offered the possibility of “a real opportunity for the segregated schools to participate in much needed school reform.” Among the recommendations was the suggestion that the schools open all trade and apprenticeship programs to Black students.147

Although the white school leadership did not promise any immediate action, the report did result in the hiring of the first Black director of the Baltimore City Division of Colored Schools, Dr. Francis Russell in 1923. Russell’s tenure was brief. He resigned in protest in August 1924 after school administration denied him the resources he requested for the city’s colored schools. On August 1, 1925, the school board appointed Francis Marion Wood as the new head of the Division of Colored Schools. An experienced Black educator and administrator, Wood relocated to Baltimore where he continued to serve as the director up until 1943.148 As an example of the new approach Wood brought to the position, in 1926, he began attending the annual conference organized by Carter G. Woodson’s Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Wood introduced a Negro History week in February to celebrate the history of Black Americans with each segregated Black school organizing their own Black history programs.149

Black Schools in Baltimore and Anne Arundel Counties: 1920s

In more rural areas outside the city, Black residents experienced their own distinct challenges with segregated schools. Small Black communities grew up in Baltimore County during the decades after the Civil War as formerly enslaved residents established new churches and opened schools for Black children. St. Stephen’s A.M.E. Church, established in 1870, replaced its original 1878 church with a new building in 1907 that stood until the existing building at 1601 Old Eastern Avenue in Essex was built in 1966. In the Big Falls community, a colored schoolhouse on Hereford Road remained in use until 1936. The Cuba Road community near Cockeysville grew up around the Gough United Methodist Church, first erected in 1875 and replaced in 1907. In Lutherville, the Colored School Number 24 opened in 1909 (making it the second oldest Black schoolhouse in Baltimore County).150 In the early twentieth century, the industrial development of Baltimore extended out into the suburbs with Bethlehem Steel’s development of Dundalk and the growth of Turner’s Station as a Black community. In the late 1920s, a few Rosenwald schools were erected in the general area including Marley Neck Rosenwald School (AA-2066) built in 1927 in Anne Arundel County.

The inadequate conditions of County school buildings and the injustice of unequal pay for Black teachers emerged as a growing concern for Black families and white reformers in the 1910s and 1920s. For example, in 1922 a white organization, the Women’s Civic League of Catonsville, submitted a report to the County school board on their area’s colored school, calling it a “veritable fire trap… overcrowded and unsanitary.”151 By 1926, the county government operated six high schools for white students but provided no public high school for Black students. Black households in the county could send their children to Douglass High School in Baltimore City but they would be required to pay transportation costs and tuition totaling over $150 a year. Despite the expense, 50 students made the trip in 1926. In 1927, however, the county sought to reduce their spending on education for Black students by instituting an examination that cut the group of eligible students down to just 12.152 Black parents immediately pushed back with over 300 people participating in a rally held in Towson by the County-Wide Parent-Teacher Association of Baltimore County. Unfortunately, county school officials ignored the protests and the first Black high school in the county was not created until 1939 when Carver High School opened in East Towson.153

Public Accommodation and Public Space: 1880s–1920s

Most Baltimore hotels, theaters, and other businesses had excluded Black customers or limit their access to their establishments since before the Civil War. The Supreme Court ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson, which established the “separate but equal” doctrine, essentially institutionalized segregation by allowing state and local governments to pass laws excluding Black Americans from public life. Laws restricted where and how Black people could enter and use public spaces such as parks, department stores, and railroad cars. Despite their fierce opposition to these policies, activists were largely unsuccessful in overturning them in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century.

Equal Protection Before Plessy v. Ferguson: 1880s

In the 1880s, Black Baltimoreans began to gain a small measure of economic security and activists began exploring how they could use legal action to fight discrimination. One small legal victory came in February 1885 when four Black women from Baltimore—Martha Stewart, Winney Stewart, Mary M. Johnson, and Lucy Jones—successfully sued the Baltimore, Chesapeake, and Richmond Steamboat Company for racial discrimination. However, historian Dennis Halpin has observed that the decision in the case (known as the “Steamer Sue” case) “likely disappointed activists who clearly sought a decision challenging Hall v. DeCuir [which ruled that states could not prohibit segregation on common transportation carriers] and restoring protections against discrimination laid out in the Fourteenth Amendment.” Instead, the court “reaffirmed the right of the steamboat operators to provide separate accommodations but only if they were equal."154

An even more important victory came just one month later, in March 1885, when Charles L. Wilson succeeded in his suit to overturn the exclusion of Black attorneys to the Maryland Bar. The decision from the Supreme Bench of Baltimore, noted:

To deter any class of citizens from its membership is not only to prevent their engaging in a lawful calling, but, in the language of the Supreme Court, tends to degrade and stigmatize the whole class by depriving them of a privilege which all other citizens possess and of the equal protection of the law.155

Equal Protection After Plessy v. Ferguson: 1896–1920s

Segregation in Baltimore grew even more pervasive after the 1896 US Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson. Local officials enacted new policies to segregate public parks and downtown department stores and implemented formal segregation policies for the first time. Passenger railroads, electric streetcars, and public parks were all sites of persistent conflict between opponents and supporters of segregation. While some attempts to encourage segregation used legal force, others were more subtle. For example, in August 1899, the board of park commissioners removed benches from a section of Harlem Park on Edmondson Avenue to discourage the regular use of the park by Black residents at night.156 In 1904, the Maryland legislature enacted a Jim Crow policy to segregate railroad coaches across the state despite a nearly successful effort by Dr. Ernest Lyon, then pastor at John Wesley Methodist Episcopal Church, to get legislators to abandon the change. Later in 1904, Park Superintendent W. W. Crosby established a new rule for Druid Hill Park (B-56) “designating certain groves for colored and certain ones for white people.” When the change in policy came to the attention of Black school groups denied use of park areas they’d used in the past, a delegation including Rev. Dr. Harvey Johnson, Dr. George F. Bragg, Dr. E. F. Eggleston, Rev. Dr. W. M. Alexander, and John H. Murphy went to a meeting of the Board of Park Commissioners on August 1, 1905, and brought their case to reverse the change, but were ultimately unsuccessful.157

Councilman Samuel West initially proposed segregating Baltimore’s streetcars at the same time he was pushing for a housing segregation ordinance. City Councilman Jefferson Davis Norris, representing the Eleventh Ward, revisited the idea in November 1913 citing concern over Black riders who used the streetcar to visit resorts around Westport. City Comptroller James F. Thrift also reportedly supported the measure, but, with strong opposition from W. Ashbie Hawkins and others, the proposal was never enacted.158

These policies led to the expansion of what historian Sherry Olson labeled “a Jim Crow space” that “expanded grudgingly, explosively, block by block and year by year.”159 Even within the officially integrated space of a Baltimore streetcar, Black residents were often subjected to unjust treatment by white operators and passengers. In the poem “Incident,” published in 1925, black, gay poet Countee Cullen recounts his own experience visiting Baltimore in 1911:

Once riding in old Baltimore, / ​ Heart-filled, head-filled with glee, / I saw a Baltimorean / ​ Keep looking straight at me. / Now I was eight and very small, / ​ And he was no whit bigger, / And so I smiled, but he poked out / ​ His tongue, and called me, “Nigger.” / I saw the whole of Baltimore / ​ From May until December; / Of all the things that happened there / ​ That’s all that I remember.

Beyond the city streetcars, segregation defined much of resident’s daily lives. Thurgood Marshall, who grew up in Baltimore in the 1910s and 1920s, later recalled: “The only thing different between the South and Baltimore was trolley cars. They weren’t segregated. Everything else was segregated.”160

Courts, Prisons, and Criminal Injustice

The administration of criminal justice was deeply unequal for white and Black Baltimoreans in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Many factors contributed to the persistence and expansion of this inequality including the exclusion of Black men from juries, the city’s segregated police force, discriminatory approaches to policing in segregated Black neighborhoods and the criminalization of Black residents. These disparities began to appear as early as the 1850s and grew rapidly after the Civil War. Historian Adam Malka observed how city officials in the late 1860s responded to emancipation in Maryland “by arresting and incarcerating large numbers of freed people." Consequently, between 1861 and 1870, Black individuals went from 17% of the city's arrests to more than 34%—doubling in less than a decade. For Black Baltimoreans, the police and prisons were represented what Malka termed “emancipation’s despair” and an expansion of white male supremacy following the end of slavery in Maryland.161

Disparities in arrest rates were carried forward into disparities in the people detained at the Baltimore City Jail (B-5315) on E. Madison Street and the Maryland Penitentiary (B-1072) on Forrest Street. Black people only made up 16% of the city’s population in 1880 but they made up over 30% of the people confined to the City Jail in 1883.162 The over-policing of Black Baltimoreans in some circumstances is matched by an under-policing of violence directed against Black people. Lynching and violence by white urban mobs are both examples of this. If Black Baltimoreans were attacked by white residents, they had difficulty finding justice in the courts.

Anti-lynching Activism: 1880s–1920s

Between 1882 and 1911, white people in Maryland lynched a reported 31 Black residents. This was a small part of a national wave of political violence against Black men and women across the United States.163 In an influential 2015 report, the Equal Justice Institute focused on “terror lynchings” as a distinct from the “hangings and mob violence that followed some criminal trial process or that were committed against non-minorities without the threat of terror.” Their study concluded that lynching was extensively used as “a tool used to enforce laws and racial segregation” and “a tactic for maintaining racial control by victimizing the entire African American community, not merely punishment of an alleged perpetrator for a crime.”164

Lynchings started to decline in frequency the early twentieth century but outbreaks of urban violence in cities in southern and northern states, such as the Atlanta race riot in 1906 or riots in Springfield, Illinois, in 1908, alarmed Black Baltimoreans about the continued threat of white violence. A riot in East St. Louis, Illinois, in July 1917 prompted a mass meeting at Bethel A.M.E. Church. After the meeting, a delegation (including Dr. Carl J. Murphy, son of the founder the Afro-American newspaper) was sent to meet with President Woodrow Wilson in order to urge him to investigate the riot and take action to address the issue.165 On December 18, 1918, the new local division of UNIA, then led by William D. Rankin, a native of St. Kitts in the West Indies who lived at 1430 McCulloh Street, organized an event at Bethel A.M.E. Church (co-sponsored by pastor Rev. William Sampson Brooks) featuring speeches by UNIA founder Marcus Garvey and journalist and anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells.166

Anti-lynching legislation emerged as a major issue for local activists in the early twentieth century and remained an important concern up through the 1940s.167 Baltimore activists also saw their proximity to Washington, DC, as a special obligation to lobby federal officials on lynching and related issues.168 In 1922, NAACP branch president Rev. Monroe Davis joined in a national anti-lynching campaign described by historian Mark Robert Schneider as “no legalistic top-down campaign, but a sustained battle for public opinion.” Davis also introduced the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill at a mass meeting of 2,000 Baltimoreans at Bethel A.M.E. Church.169 The bill, named for Republican Congressman Leonidas C. Dyer, had first been introduced to Congress in 1918. The proposal to make lynching a federal felony passed the US House of Representatives in January 1922, but was stopped by a filibuster in the Senate by white southern Democrats.

Police Violence and Judicial Discrimination: 1900s–1920s

Black residents in Baltimore also faced the threat of police violence and a broader challenge of criminal injustice. Newspapers recorded numerous incidents of police violence that attracted criticism from both white and Black observers. For example, in February 1918, Judge Robert F. Stanton, who later served as Police Commissioner from 1938 to 1943, criticized an officer beating a Black soldier who enlisted for military service in World War I. In 1926, Baltimore police officer James O. Jones assaulted a Black man named Henry Boyer. The year following a police officer clubbed a Black man named Henry Simuels.170 Black residents responded to these incidents with letters of protest, mass meetings, and other forms of organized action. As a student at the Colored High School on Pennsylvania Avenue in the early 1920s, Thurgood Marshall had a close-up view of how Baltimore’s police officers treated Black suspects held next door at the Northwestern District Police Station. In a 2011 biography, Marshall recalled sitting in his classroom and hearing “police in there beating the hell out of people, saying, ‘Black boy, why don’t you just shut your goddamned mouth, you’re going to talk yourself into the electric chair.’”171

Black residents in Baltimore experienced the dual challenges of being both over-policed and under-protected. Not only was police violence widespread for Black residents, white residents who committed crimes against Black neighbors could expect much lighter penalties for their actions or no penalty at all. Sexual violence against Black women was a particular area of concern. In her early 1890s study of lynchings in the United States, famed activist and journalist Ida B. Wells cited an example of how a Black woman in Baltimore “was out walking with a young man of her own race” when she was attacked by a group of white men who “held her escort and outraged the girl.” Wells concluded: “The case went to the courts and they were acquitted.”172 In July 1907, the Afro-American observed what the newspaper called an “epidemic of rape perpetrated by white men of this vicinity.” The paper concluded that “the worst of it is that few of them meet with the punishment they deserve.”173

Multiple mass meetings in the early twentieth century organized residents to protest these conditions. For example, on February 1, 1921, 500 people gathered at Trinity Baptist Church at Druid Hill Avenue and Mosher Street to protest the release of a white man, Harry Feldenheimer, on a $500 bail soon after police arrested him for an attempted assault on a 10-year-old Black girl named Esther Short. The Afro-American reported that participants in the meeting criticized the “brutality of the local police, exclusion of qualified men from the police force and from juries in the city, and the Jim Crow arrangements for colored people in the Criminal and Juvenile Courts.”174 A 1926 report from the Afro-American called attention to racism in the use of capital punishment in Maryland. Between 1903 and 1926, nine of the 10 men executed in Maryland for murder or rape were black—a clear injustice that brought the newspaper to call for an end to the death penalty.175

Activists sought to address these problems by demanding stronger oversight of the police and the appointment of Black police officers. In 1925, the Conference of A.M.E. Ministers set up a committee to consider the best way to place Black officers on the police force.176 Although such efforts were unsuccessful in this period, the work by activists eventually led the city and state to begin to address their concerns in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Jury selection and the manipulation of juries were broader regional issues that drew regular critical attention. A 1918 report in the Afro-American suggests that even the “oldest inhabitant” of the area “could hardly recall” any opportunity for a Black man to participate in a Grand Jury.177 In 1921, the paper observed how Baltimore County District Court Judge Frank I. Duncan, as he granted Charles H. Brooks a new trial, had told a jury that “there is no doubt in his mind that the man is guilty of raping a white woman.” Given two recent examples of Black men convicted of crimes “even though there was genuine doubt among some as to their guilt,” the Afro-American recognized a clear pattern of discrimination.”178

While the passage of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments to the US Constitution brought the promise of equality to Black Marylanders, the reality was that Black residents continued to experience deeply unequal conditions in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Racially segregated housing and public accommodations, voter disenfranchisement, an unequal and underfunded educational system, and an unfair criminal justice system served frustrate efforts by advocates seeking to improve material conditions or expand political power for Black residents. The growth of white supremacy and the hardening of legal protections for segregation following Plessy v. Ferguson posed an enormous barrier to the early civil rights movement. Black churches, fraternal organizations, and individual civic leaders sustained the fight to reject these policies and set a foundation for future success in the mid-twentieth century.

  1. Maryland State Archives, “Rev. William Moncure Alexander: First-Rate, Second-Tier Leadership,” Black Baltimore: 1870-1920, 1998,

  2. Stefan Goodwin and Dean R. Wagner, “Union Baptist Church (B-2965),” National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, (Washington, DC: National Park Service, June 2009). 

  3. Alexandra Cornelius, “A Taste of the Lash of Criticism: Racial Progress, Self-Defense, and Christian Intellectual Thought in the Work of Amelia E. Johnson,” in Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women, ed. Mia E. Bay et al. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press Books, 2015), 94–95. 

  4. Bettye Collier-Thomas, “Harvey Johnson and the Baltimore Mutual United Brotherhood of Liberty, 1885–1910,” in From Reconstruction to the Great Migration, 1877–1917, ed. Kenneth L. Kusmer, vol. 4, Black Communities and Urban Development in America, 1720–1990 (New York: Garland Publishing, 1991), 222. 

  5. Dennis P. Halpin, “Reforming Charm City: Grassroots Activism, Politics, and the Making of Modern Baltimore, 1877–1920,” PhD diss. (Rutgers The State University of New Jersey - New Brunswick, 2012), 11. 

  6. Jeffrey Richardson Brackett, Notes on the Progress of the Colored People of Maryland Since the War. A Supplement to the Negro in Maryland: A Study of the Institution of Slavery, 1890, 425–26. 

  7. Halpin, “Reforming Charm City,” 14. 

  8. “Abolition of the Black Laws: Celebration of the Event by the Brotherhood of Liberty at Irving Park,” The Sun, September 1888, 6. 

  9. Thompson, “The Civil Rights Vanguard,” 28. 

  10. Grace Elizabeth Hale, Making Whiteness: The Culture of Segregation in the South, 1890-1940 (New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2010), 21. 

  11. “The Intermarriage Question: Colored Ministers Agitating for Repeal of Marriage Law Restrictions,” The Sun, February 1887, 6; Pauli Murray, States’ Laws on Race and Color (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1950), 207–208; The Maryland Colonial government previously enacted a ban on interracial marriage in 1664. The 1888 law declared “miscegenation” as an “infamous crime” with a punishment of 18 months to 10 years in prison. Ministers or pastors marrying an interracial couple would be fined $100. 

  12. The “Lost Cause” was a popular ideological movement that mythologizes the Confederate cause as heroic and frames the Civil War as an honorable struggle for “state’s rights”, while minimizing or denying the central role of slavery to the conflict. For more on memorialization of the Civil War in Maryland, see Charles W. Mitchell, Maryland Voices of the Civil War (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007), 469–476. 

  13. Carl H. Nightingale, “The Transnational Contexts of Early Twentieth-Century American Urban Segregation,” Journal of Social History 39, no. 3 (April 2006), 667–702, 671; Pamphlets, books, and other publications played a central role in the local and national distribution of racist ideas in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. One notable work that helped to spread the idea of “scientific racism” was Frederick Hoffman’s]( Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro published in 1896. William C. Bruce went on to serve as a state senator from 1894 to 1896 and a legal officer for Baltimore City from 1903 to 1908, and US Senator from 1923 to 1929. 

  14. Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, First Edition (New York: Random House, 2010), 40. 

  15. Eli Pousson, “Baltimore’s Confederate Memory & Monuments,” Baltimore’s Civil Rights Heritage, October 24, 2016,]( 

  16. “To Confederate Valor: Monument on Mount Royal Avenue Is Unveiled; Music, Eloquence; Flowers; Veterans March Again with the Old Flags and Are Greeted with Cheers Along the Line,” The Sun, May 1903. For more on the role of monuments in memorializing the Civil War and promoting “Lost Cause” myths, see Cynthia Mills and Pamela Hemenway Simpson, Monuments to the Lost Cause: Women, Art, and the Landscapes of Southern Memory (Univ. of Tennessee Press, 2003); Kirk Savage, Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Monument in Nineteenth-Century America (Princeton University Press, 1999). 

  17. “Lowdens Elected: He Sweeps Our Maryland and Baltimore Against the Bosses; The People’s Victory: Alcaeus Hooper Chosen Mayor, with a Republican City Council; Legislature is Republican; Mr. Lowndes’s Plurality over 10,000 in the State; Mr. Gorman Loses His Own County; Republicans Carry New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Massachusetts, Iowa and Nebraska–Democrats Successful in Kentucky and Mississippi–Tammany Won in New York City–Utah for Statehood,” The Sun, November 1895, 1. 

  18. Bettye C. Thomas, “Public Education and Black Protest in Baltimore: 1865–1900,” Maryland Historical Magazine 71, no. 3 (Fall 1976): 381–91, 388-389; In his 1941 memoir Newspaper Days, H. L. Mencken labeled Hayes “a very shrewd lawyer, an unreconstructed Confederate veteran, a pious Methodist, and a somewhat bawdy bachelor.” 

  19. Murray, States’ Laws on Race and Color, 208–11. 

  20. Bruce A. Thompson, “The Civil Rights Vanguard: The NAACP and the Black Community in Baltimore, 1931-1942,” PhD diss. (University of Maryland, College Park, 1996), 31. 

  21. Halpin, “Reforming Charm City,” 244–45. 

  22. “Dr. Johnson At Union 45 Years: Venerable Baptist Minister Has Been Foremost in Civic and Religious Life of City a Half Century,” Afro-American, November 17, 1917. 

  23. Halpin, “Reforming Charm City,” 233-234; Frederick N. Rasmussen, “A Little Help from Twain: Councilman Warner T. McGuinn Well-Represented the City as He Worked Against Segregation and Spoke Out for Women’s Rights,” Baltimore Sun, February 2001. Born near Richmond, Virginia, in 1859, McGuinn was the half-brother of Rev. William M. Alexander, pastor at Sharon Baptist Church, and later served on the City Council from 1919 to 1923 and 1927 to 1931. 

  24. Patricia Sullivan, Lift Every Voice: The NAACP and the Making of the Civil Rights Movement (New York: The New Press, 2009), 2. 

  25. R. L. Polk & Co, Baltimore City Directory (Baltimore, MD: R.L. Polk & Co., 1905), 1764; Angela Jones, African American Civil Rights: Early Activism and the Niagara Movement: Early Activism and the Niagara Movement (ABC-CLIO, 2011), 233; Garnett R. Waller was born on February 17, 1857, in Eastville, Virginia, and he died on March 7, 1941, in Baltimore, Maryland. Other participants at the 1905 meeting also included James Robert Lincoln Diggs who later moved to Baltimore and succeeded Waller as pastor of Trinity Baptist Church. 

  26. Susan D. Carle, Defining the Struggle: National Organizing for Racial Justice, 1880–1915 (Oxford University Press, 2015), 195. 

  27. Some historians suggest the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP was not established until 1914. Little documentation exists documenting the chapter’s earliest activities. 

  28. Sullivan, Lift Every Voice, 29. 

  29. “May "Ostracize" Dr Dixon: Hotel Negroes Refuse to Serve "Clansman" Representatives,” The Sun, March 1906, 14; The Sun’s reference to the Constitutional League is likely a misidentification of the National Equal Rights League which was active nationally in this period. 

  30. ”"Birth of a Nation" Here: Audience at Ford’s Hisses and Cheers Great Film Production; Historic Scenes Recalled; Thomas Dixon’s Story, "The Clansman," Realistically Presented with Many Thrilling Additions,” The Sun, March 1916, 7; “Ford’s – Birth of a Nation,” The Sun, April 1916, SO10; Ford’s Theatre was demolished in 1964 for the construction of a parking garage. 

  31. “Hate of a Nation,” Afro-American, March 1916, 4. 

  32. Mark Robert Schneider, "We Return Fighting": The Civil Rights Movement in the Jazz Age (Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press, 2002), 57. 

  33. Kevin K. Gaines, “Racial Uplift Ideology in the Era of ‘the Negro Problem’,” Freedom’s Story, TeacherServe, National Humanities Center (; Kevin K. Gaines, Uplifting the Race: Black Leadership, Politics, and Culture in the Twentieth Century (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press Books, 2012). 

  34. “Maryland’s Backward Step: Afro-American Preachers View Disfranchisement in this Way,” Afro-American, March 1904, 1–2; Other pastors cited in the account include W. M. Alexander, Sharon Baptist Church; E. F. Eggleston, Grace Presbyterian Church; Rueben H. Armstrong, Madison Street Presbyterian Church; Rev. D. G. Hill, Trinity A.M.E. Church; Rev. John Hurst, Waters A.M.E. Church; Rev. J. W. Norris, Allen A.M.E. Church; and senior leadership at Bethel A.M.E. Church and Sharp Street Church. 

  35. George F. Bragg, “Criminality of the Colored Race,” The Sun, January 1906, 7. 

  36. George F. Bragg, “White People Who Have Helped the Colored Race,” The Sun, May 1918, 6. 

  37. Robert W. Coleman, The First Colored Professional, Clerical and Business Directory of Baltimore City, 13th ed., vol. 488 (Baltimore, MD: R.W. Coleman, 1925), 9. 

  38. Rev. Bragg lived on the Square and remained active in the city’s political and civic life until his death in 1940. 

  39. Formed in 1797, the Baltimore City Council was organized into two chambers (the First Branch and the Second Branch) up until 1922 when Baltimore voters approved a referendum making the Council a single body. 

  40. “The Colored Councilman: A Pen-Picture of Harry S. Cummings-He Outlines His Public Course,” The Sun, November 1890, 6. 

  41. “Stick to the Farms: Ex-Councilman Cummings’s Advice to Colored People at Their Fair,” The Sun, September 1894, 8. 

  42. “Their Hope is in Work: Harry S. Cummings, Colored, Gives Good Advice to His Race,” The Sun, May 1906, 9. 

  43. Eli Pousson, “Harry Sythe Cummings House - the Final Home of Baltimore’s First Black City Councilman,” Explore Baltimore Heritage (, November 2015). 

  44. R. L. Jackson and E. C. Walden, “A History of Provident Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland,” Journal of the National Medical Association 59, no. 3 (May 1967), 157–65; Yolanda A. Bean, “Upholding Black Life and Dignity in the Eleventh Ward: The Establishment of Provident Hospital and Other Businesses, Organizations, and Institutions in Segregated Baltimore, Maryland, 1894 to 1930,” Master’s Thesis, (Baltimore, MD: Morgan State University, 2010). 

  45. “Old Provident Hospital to Be Razed,” The Sun, June 1, 1972. 

  46. Kimberly Crandall Bowling and Kriste Lindenmeyer, “How Did a Multi-Racial Movement Develop in the YWCA in Baltimore, 1883-1926?” Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600–2000 (, May 2002). 

  47. Cynthia Neverdon-Morton, “Black Housing Patterns in Baltimore City, 1885–1953,” Maryland Historian, 1985, 219. 

  48. “Reisterstown Fresh Air Farm,” The Freeman, August 1, 1908, 2. 

  49. Ann Dexter Gordon and Bettye Collier-Thomas, African American Women and the Vote, 1837–1965 (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1997), 124; “City News In Brief: Day Nursery Association Opens New Building,” Afro-American, October 19, 1912; “Social Worker Writes Poems as Her Particular Hobby,” Afro-American, August 2, 1930, A13; In some sources, Sarah’s last name Fernandis is spelled Fernandes. 

  50. Nina Mjagkij, ed., Organizing Black America (Routledge, 2013), 76; Rona Marech, “Where Civility, History and Black Culture Meet,” Baltimore Sun, April 24, 2006. 

  51. Felicia L. Jamison, “Leading from Behind: The Role of Women in Sharp Street United Methodist Church, 1898–1921” (Master’s thesis, Morgan State University, 2010), 44. 

  52. Ibid., 5. 

  53. Ibid., 41. 

  54. Ibid., 6. 

  55. Maryland State Archives, “Rev. Dr. Harvey Johnson: The Preacher & 19th Century Activism 1843-1923,” Black Baltimore 1870-1920 (, 1998). 

  56. Harvey Johnson, A Plea for Our Work as Colored Baptists, Apart from the Whites (Boston, MA: National Baptist Convention of the United States of America, 1897). 

  57. Collier-Thomas, “Harvey Johnson and the Baltimore Mutual United Brotherhood of Liberty, 1885–1910,” 224; Johnson attended the first public meeting of the Niagara Movement in August 1906. He is not recorded as a participant in the founding meeting a year earlier in Ontario, Canada. 

  58. Cornelius, “A Taste of the Lash of Criticism,” 104. 

  59. Matthew S. Gottlieb, “James Robert Lincoln Diggs (d. 1923),” Dictionary of Virginia Biography (1998), 2016. 

  60. “Negroes Open Convention,” The Sun, October 1920, 11. 

  61. Robert W. Coleman, The First Colored Professional, Clerical and Business Directory of Baltimore City, 9th ed., vol. 501 (Baltimore, MD: R. W. Coleman, 1921), 21. 

  62. Mjagkij, Organizing Black America, 76. 

  63. “Colored People Organizing for Education: Local Briefs,” The Sun, June 1884. 

  64. “Democrats Steal State: Thousands of Republicans Disfranchised in Maryland.” Afro-American, November 1901. 

  65. Thompson, “The Civil Rights Vanguard,” 1. 

  66. W. Alexander, “Letter to the Editor,” Afro-American, October 1905, 4. 

  67. “They Maul the Amendment: Negro Women Make Vigorous Attack at Perkins Square Church,” The Sun, October 1905, 12; One woman among the evening’s speakers reportedly “devoted most of her attention to the men” who would vote on the measure, remarking “If the men haven’t sense enough to vote right without the women telling them, they don’t deserve to vote.” 

  68. Jane L. Phelps, “Charles J. Bonaparte and Negro Suffrage in Maryland,” Maryland Historical Magazine 54, no. 4 (December 1959), 331–52. 

  69. C. Fraser Smith, Here Lies Jim Crow: Civil Rights in Maryland (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 65. 

  70. Thompson, “The Civil Rights Vanguard,” 33. 

  71. Suzanne Ellery Greene, “Black Republicans on the Baltimore City Council, 1890–1931,” Maryland Historical Magazine 74, no. 3 (September 1979), 203–22. 

  72. Hanes Walton Jr., Sherman Puckett, and Donald R. Deskins Jr., “The Enfranchisement of African American Women, 1669–1921,” in The African American Electorate (SAGE, 2012), 424–25. 

  73. “Opposes Ignorant Vote: Rev. Dr. Anna H. Shaw Advocates Educational Qualification; Many Suffragists Hear Her; Fifteenth Amendment, She Says, Was Biggest Political Blunder She Ever Heard Of,” The Sun, March 1909, 12. 

  74. “To Bar Negro Women.” Afro-American, January 1912, 4. 

  75. J. Jenifer, “The Forum,” Afro-American, March 1906, 4. 

  76. “Women Will Help to Get Out Voters,” Afro-American, October 1911, 4. 

  77. Kacy Rohn, “The Maryland Women’s Suffrage Movement,” Draft National Register Multiple Property Documentation Form (Crownsville, MD: Maryland Historical Trust, 2017), 28–29. 

  78. “Maryland Stood 4 To 1: Only Representative Smith for Woman Suffrage; Talbott Sick and Absent; Would Have Voted with Majority; Enfranchisement of Negro Women Chief Cause of Opposition,” The Sun, January 1915, 2. 

  79. “Plan Meeting to Aid Women: Colored Women’s Suffrage Club to Hold Weekly Meetings in the Y.W.C.A.; Will Cover City; Every Woman Urged to Register at the Polls September 21.” Afro-American, September 1920, 8. 

  80. On November 7, 1922, Maryland voters ratified a separate state Constitutional amendment (Chapter 275, Acts of 1922) to allow women to hold public office. 

  81. Samuel Kelton Roberts Jr., Infectious Fear: Politics, Disease, and the Health Effects of Segregation (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009), 73. Hod-carriers were laborers in the building trades that would carry supplies to bricklayers or stonemasons. 

  82. Halpin, “Reforming Charm City,” 219. 

  83. “Northwest Now Center of Baltimore Social Life: Many Streets Once Prominent in High Society but Dilapidated Alleys Now,” Afro-American, April 1926, 16; The area’s notable past residents listed in this 1926 recollection include Black physicians, Dr. Harry Brown (superintendent of Provident Hospital), Dr. Edward J. Wheatley, Dr. Charles Fowler, and Dr. Nelson Moquette, suggesting the professional or class status of the Black Baltimoreans who led the move into northwest Baltimore. 

  84. Willard B. Gatewood Jr., Aristocrats of Color: The Black Elite, 1880–1920 (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2000), 77. 

  85. Lawrence H. Mamiya, “A Social History of the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Baltimore: The House of God and the Struggle for Freedom,” in Portraits of Twelve Religious Communities, ed. James P. Wind and James W. Lewis, vol. 1, American Congregations (University of Chicago Press, 1994), 248–49. 

  86. “B. & O. Said to be Buyer: Property on Eutaw, Camden, Sharp and Hill Streets Sold; Old St. Joseph’s Church in It; Edifice to Be Demolished Is One of the Historic Catholic Places of Worship in the City,” The Sun, December 1905. 

  87. “Houses Razed in Night: B. And O. Pulled down Three Dwellings with Locomotive; Occupants Were Hurried Out; Injunction Against Railroad Company Had Expired and Wreckers Did the Rest,” The Sun, June 1907, 14. 

  88. “Segregation a Boon to Real Estate Sharps: Restricted Area Enables Them to Charge Exorbitant Rentals in Good Residential Sections; Rents Up Over 20 Percent; Prices for Houses in Segregated Districts Are Abnormally High,” Afro-American, January 1915. 

  89. “Bethel A. M. E. Church Enters New Home Under Auspicious Circumstances,” Afro-American, January 1911. 

  90. “Northwest Now Center of Baltimore Social Life.”; The “colored ‘Four hundred’” was a popular term for New York’s Black high society in the 1890s. 

  91. Mary Ellen Hayward, “Old East Baltimore Historic District (B-1395),” National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, (Washington, DC: Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 2005), 88. 

  92. Dennis P. Halpin, “‘The Struggle for Land and Liberty’ Segregation, Violence, and African American Resistance in Baltimore, 1898-1918,” Journal of Urban History, July 2015, 1–22, doi:10.1177/0096144215589923]( 

  93. “Colored Family Scared: Claim That Their House, on Druid Hill Avenue, Is Bombarded,” The Sun, September 1, 1899. 

  94. “Negro Domination: Democrats Who Live in Hiram Watty’s Ward Hear Its Evils Discussed,” The Sun, April 20, 1899, 10. 

  95. “Colored Family Unwelcome: Windows Broken and Stone Trimmings Smeared with Tar,” The Sun, May 5, 1902. 

  96. “Negro Homes Stoned: Windows and Vestibules Damaged on McCulloh Street,” The Sun, September 9, 1910; “5 Injured in a Near-Riot: Much Feeling Caused by Continual Efforts by Certain Papers to Magnify Conditions,” Afro-American, September 27, 1913, 8; Another 1913 attack took place at 828 N. Stricker Street. 

  97. “Anti-Race Feeling Costly,” The Sun, January 23, 1911, 4; 18 S. Spring Street is presently the location of a vacant lot surrounded by a chain-link fence. 

  98. As the first residential segregation law in the country, the ordinance has been the subject of detailed scholarly study over the past thirty years. Garrett Power, “Apartheid Baltimore Style: The Residential Segregation Ordinances of 1910-1913,” Maryland Law Review 42 (1983); Nightingale, “The Transnational Contexts of Early Twentieth-Century American Urban Segregation.”; Roberts Jr., Infectious Fear; Gretchen Boger, “The Meaning of Neighborhood in the Modern City Baltimore’s Residential Segregation Ordinances, 1910-1913,” Journal of Urban History 35, no. 2 (January 2009): 236–58, doi:10.1177/0096144208327915](; Halpin, “Reforming Charm City.”; Halpin, “‘The Struggle for Land and Liberty’ Segregation, Violence, and African American Resistance in Baltimore, 1898–1918.” 

  99. “Anti-Race Feeling Costly.” 

  100. Thompson, “The Civil Rights Vanguard,” 34–35; Power, “Apartheid Baltimore Style,” 298–303. 

  101. “Baltimore, Md., Ordinance 692,” May 1911. 

  102. “Segregation Law Decided Invalid.” Afro-American. August 9, 1913; Garrett Power, “Apartheid Baltimore Style: The Residential Segregation Ordinances of 1910-1913,” Maryland Law Review 42 (1983),](; Dennis P. Halpin, “‘The Struggle for Land and Liberty’ Segregation, Violence, and African American Resistance in Baltimore, 1898-1918,” Journal of Urban History, July 3, 2015, 1–22,]( 

  103. Halpin, “Reforming Charm City,” 204. 

  104. Dennis Anthony Doster, “"To Strike for Right, to Strike with Might": African Americans and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Baltimore, 1910-1930” (PhD diss., University of Maryland, College Park, 2015). 

  105. Paige Glotzer, “Exclusion in Arcadia: How Suburban Developers Circulated Ideas About Discrimination, 1890–1950,” Journal of Urban History 41, no. 3 (May 2015): 481, doi:10.1177/0096144214566964]( 

  106. Ibid., 488. 

  107. Ibid., 482–83. 

  108. “Plan to Check Negro Invasion is Inaugurated: Steps Taken to Consolidate Many Groups in Protective Move; Effect of Influx on Streets is Told; Six Associations Represented at Gathering in Church,” The Sun, January 1924, 18. 

  109. “Segregationists Hold Stormy Session: ’Meek’ Negroes for Mayor’s Committee; Studebaker Tells White Improvement Associations Fighting Kind Are Not Wanted; Secretary Pitt Speaks; Says Best Thing Is to Put Negroes in Bag and Throw Them Overboard.” Afro-American, January 1924. 

  110. “Pastors Organize New Alliance: All Denominations Represented in City’s Reorganized Clerical Body; Constitution Adopted; Second Committee Appointed Is One to Fight Residential Segregation.” Afro-American, January 1924, 6; An earlier Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance organized in 1906 with a meeting at Sharp Street Church and plans for monthly meetings at Grace Presbyterian Church. The continuity between the 1906 and 1924 organizations is unclear. 

  111. Secretary of State, “Maryland Manual,” Archives of Maryland, 135 (1924),

  112. “Inter-Racial Commission on Segregation,” Afro-American, February 1924, A9. 

  113. See J. Stockbridge, “Russell I. Diggs et Al. Vs. Morgan College,” October 1918; For more on the history of Morgan State University, see Edward Wilson, The History of Morgan State College: A Century of Purpose in Action, 1867–1967 (New York: Vantage Press, 1975); See also Traci Leigh Moody Dula, “Prospering Because That’s Its History: Black Resilience and Honors Development in Higher Education: Morgan State University and the State of Maryland, 1867–1988” (PhD diss., University of Maryland, College Park, 2016). 

  114. Roland Calhoun McConnell, The History of Morgan Park: A Baltimore Neighborhood, 1917–1999 (Baltimore, MD: Morgan Park Improvement Association, 2000). 

  115. Sarah Gantz, “A Push to Recognize Founder of Baltimore’s Historic Wilson Park, The Baltimore Sun, July 11, 2017. 

  116. “Harry O. Wilson House,” Landmark Designation Report (Baltimore City Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation, July 11, 2017), 2–5. 

  117. Eric Holcomb, “Somerset Court (B-5136),” Determination of Eligibility Form (Crownsville, MD: Maryland Historical Trust, 2007); Halpin, “Reforming Charm City”; Samuel Kelton Roberts, “Infectious Fear: Tuberculosis, Public Health, and the Logic of Race and Illness in Baltimore, Maryland, 1880–1930,” PhD diss. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University, 2002); Emily Lieb, “Row House City: Unbuilding Residential Baltimore, 1940–1980,” PhD diss. (New York: Columbia University, 2010). 

  118. Prudence Denise Cumberbatch, “Baltimore, Maryland,” ed. Steven A. Reich, The Great Black Migration: A Historical Encyclopedia of the American Mosaic, April 2014, 18. 

  119. Dreck Wilson “Druid Hill Branch, YMCA: The First Hundred Years,” Maryland Historical Magazine 84, no. 2 (Summer 1989): 135–47. 

  120. The Druid Hill YMCA continues to operate in the same location through the present. 

  121. “Homes of Colored Persons: the Ministerial Union to Have an Investigation Made in the Interest of Public Health,” The Sun, April 1898, 7; Founding members of the Ministerial Union in March 1898 included Allen, Alexander, Annanias Brown, Waller, Carroll, Naylor, Diggs, Hays, Ernest Lyon, D. J. Hill, Bowser, Warner, Hurst, A. A. Murray, E. F. Eccleston, Sewall, and George F. Bragg Jr. At their first meeting, the Union “endorsed the recent mass-meeting and the resolutions there passed with respect to the inhuman South Carolina tragedy of arson and assassination.”; “Ministerial Union,” Afro-American, March 5, 1898. 

  122. Roberts, “Infectious Fear,” 131–32; James H. N. Waring, Work of the Colored Law and Order League, Baltimore, Md (Cheyney, PA: Committee of Twelve for the Advancement of the Interests of the Negro Race, 1908). The group’s members included educators Harry T. Pratt and Mason A. Hawkins and attorney W. Ashbie Hawkins. Pratt was the first Black student to enroll at the Maryland Institute for evening classes in 1891. His residences after graduating from the Maryland Institute in 1895 include 520 W. Lanvale Street, 1934 Druid Hill Avenue, and 2411 Madison Avenue. In 1908, the officers included Rev. John A. Holmes, Johns W. Rich, Heber E. Whartin, and Dr. Thomas S. Hawkins. 

  123. “Trying the Color Line: Politics in the Council; White Men Only for City Work; but the More to This End Defeated–A Commission to Control Electric Wires–the Bureau of Agriculture,” The Sun, October 1889. 

  124. “The Question of ‘Patronage’,” Afro-American, September 1898. 

  125. Schneider, "We Return Fighting", 376. 

  126. Andor Skotnes, A New Deal for All?: Race and Class Struggles in Depression-Era Baltimore (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012), 55. 

  127. Ralph L. Pearson, “The National Urban League Comes to Baltimore,” Maryland Historical Magazine 72, no. 4 (Winter 1977): 523-524. 

  128. Ibid., 529. 

  129. Ibid., 532. 

  130. Thomas, “Public Education and Black Protest in Baltimore,” 385. 

  131. Angela D. Johnson, “The Strayer Survey and the Colored Schools of Baltimore City, 1923–1943” (Master’s thesis, Morgan State University, 2012), 12; “Raphael Ferrandini’s Body Not Found,” The Sun, June 1889, 4; Danae King, “Community Association Transforms Old Lot into Garden, Memorial for Colored School 115,” Baltimore Sun, July 8, 2014; Annex Colored School No. 1 (later known as Colored School 115) was torn down in the 1950s and is memorialized by the Schoolhouse Garden completed in 2014 by the Waverly Main Street and Civic Works. 

  132. Johnson, “The Strayer Survey and the Colored Schools of Baltimore City, 1923–1943,” 15. 

  133. Thomas, “Public Education and Black Protest in Baltimore,” 386. 

  134. Ibid., 385. 

  135. Ibid., 387–89. 

  136. Johnson, “The Strayer Survey and the Colored Schools of Baltimore City, 1923–1943,” 13–14. 

  137. Roberts Jr., Infectious Fear, 28. 

  138. White, “Morgan College and the West End,” The Sun, September 1913. 

  139. “Protest Negro School: Northwest Baltimoreans Don’t Want No. 39 Converted into One; Board Defers Final Action; Commissioner Chapman Named on Committee That Will Study the Question of Military Training,” The Sun, August 1915. 

  140. Farrar, The Baltimore Afro-American, 1892-1950, 33. 

  141. “Baltimore-Maryland,” Afro-American, December 1929, A6. 

  142. Johnson, “The Strayer Survey and the Colored Schools of Baltimore City, 1923–1943,” 18. 

  143. Ibid., 13. 

  144. Hayward Farrar, The Baltimore Afro-American, 1892–1950 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1998), 36. 

  145. “Question Is up Again: Citizens’ Organizations Ask the Board of Estimates to Make No Discrimination in High School; Dr. McCard Speaker; Tells of Number of Teachers Who Have Left Baltimore for Better Salaries,” Afro-American, November 1920, 5. 

  146. Johnson, “The Strayer Survey and the Colored Schools of Baltimore City, 1923–1943,” 23. 

  147. Ibid., 34-36. 

  148. Ibid., 37-40. 

  149. Johnson, “The Strayer Survey and the Colored Schools of Baltimore City, 1923–1943,” 47. 

  150. E.H.T. Traceries, “African American Historic Survey Districts—Baltimore County,” Baltimore County Government (, April 2016). 

  151. “Civic League Condemns Catonsville School: Women’s Civic League "White" Finds It Unfit for Occupancy and Appeals to Baltimore County School Board,” Afro-American, December 1922, 1. 

  152. “Only 12 Balto. County Pupils to Enter High: Supt. Cooper’s Office States Only That Number Passed Examination,” Afro-American, July 1927, 20. 

  153. “Enter White High Schools Says Pastor: Baltimore County’s Failure to Provide Colored His Scored by Rev. J. E. Lee; 300 Parents Attend Towson Mass Meeting,” Afro-American, September 1927, 1–2; Henry Ayers, “An Open Letter,” Afro-American, June 1929, 6. 

  154. Halpin, “Reforming Charm City,” 94–96. 

  155. Ibid., 98–100. 

  156. “Harlem Park Benches,” The Sun, August 1899, 10. 

  157. “Against Jim Crow in Druid Hill Park,” Afro-American, August 1905. 

  158. “Norris for ‘Jimcrows’: Councilman Says Races Should Be Separated in Street Cars,” The Sun, November 4, 1913; Nightingale, “The Transnational Contexts of Early Twentieth-Century American Urban Segregation,” 671. 

  159. Sherry H. Olson, Baltimore: The Building of an American City (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997), 372. 

  160. Thompson, “The Civil Rights Vanguard,” 12; Thompson cites Juan Williams, “Marshall’s Law,” Washington Post Magazine, January 7, 1990, 12–17. 

  161. Adam Malka, The Men of Mobtown: Policing Baltimore in the Age of Slavery and Emancipation (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2018), 1. 

  162. J. F. Morrison, “Report of the Warden,” in Mayor’s Message and Reports of the City Officers, vol. 2, 2 vols. (Baltimore, MD, 1884),, 1141-1143. 

  163. Philip Dray, At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America (New York: Random House, 2002); See C. Christopher Brown, “White Community Involvement in the 1906 Annapolis Lynching of Henry Davis,” Maryland Historical Magazine 108, no. 4 (Winter 2013): 411–19, for background on the 1906 lynching of Henry Davis in Annapolis, Maryland. 

  164. “Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror” (Montgomery, AL: Equal Justice Initiative, 2015). 

  165. Farrar, The Baltimore Afro-American, 1892–1950, 125. 

  166. Mamiya, “A Social History of the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Baltimore,” 250–51. 

  167. For additional information on the history of lynching in America in southern states, students and researchers should look at the American Lynching website]( and the Equal Justice Institute’s report “Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror”]( 

  168. Farrar, The Baltimore Afro-American, 1892–1950, 118-123; Farrar includes a detailed account of the efforts of Baltimore activists lobbying for federal anti-lynching legislation. 

  169. Schneider, "We Return Fighting," 179. 

  170. “Soldiers and the Police,” The Sun, February 1918; “Brutality of Policeman is Flayed Here: Baptist Ministers Discuss Methods of Curbing Abuse of Authority,” Afro-American, June 1926; “Raise Protest of Police Brutality: Commissioner Gaither Asked to Investigate Unprovoked Clubbing of Henry Simuels,” Afro-American, April 1927. 

  171. Juan Williams, Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary (Crown Publishing Group, 2011), 40. 

  172. Ida B. Wells-Barnett, The Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynching in the United States, 1895. 

  173. “White Men as Rapists,” Afro-American, July 1907, 4. 

  174. “Mass Meeting of 500 Urges Punishment of Insurance Collector: 50 Year Old White Man Charged with Assaulting Ten Year Old Girl Warned to Stay Out of Northwest Baltimore,” Afro-American, February 1921. 

  175. Farrar, The Baltimore Afro-American, 1892-1950, 115–17. 

  176. Ibid., 112. 

  177. “Sleeping on Our Rights.” Afro-American, May 1918, 4; The report added “As for petty juries, even Baltimore has been very lax for the past several years.” 

  178. “The Lynching Record,” Afro-American, January 1921, 9.