This study covers over 140 years of Baltimore history beginning in 1831 and ending in 1976. In 1830, Baltimore was the second largest city in the country. Baltimore City and County was home to 28,541 free and enslaved people of color. From 1831 through 1976, countless African Americans in Baltimore organized, advocated, and protested to protect and expand their Civil Rights. Individual activists living and working in Baltimore, among them teachers, doctors, lawyers and laborers, helped to lead and support these efforts. Working with neighbors, activists built citywide, statewide and national organizations to effect change for African American people in Baltimore.
In this study, we describe how buildings, parks, monuments, and neighborhoods helped to shape and structure this long Civil Rights movement and, in turn, how racism and Civil Rights activism shaped the design and development of Baltimore’s architecture and cultural landscapes.
How is the study divided into different sections?
The organization of this study follows a similar periodization to the National Historic Landmark (NHL) program study Civil Rights in America: A Framework for Identifying Significant Sites (2002, rev. 2009). Rather than begin with the American Revolution and the War of 1812, we instead started the study with Nat Turner’s Rebellion in Virginia—an event that had major consequences for free and enslaved black people living in Baltimore and Maryland. We also made changes to the periodization in the 20th century to support a closer look at black resistance to segregation and discrimination before World War II. This created six sections that each begin with major events that shaped the local and national context for African American Civil Rights:
- Abolition and Emancipation: 1831 – 1870
- Rights without Reconstruction : 1870 – 1905
- Segregation and WWI: 1905 – 1929
- Great Depression and WWII: 1929 – 1954
- A Changing City: 1954 – 1968
- After the Riots: 1968 – 1976
What topics does each section of the study cover?
Following the approach suggested by the 2009 white paper The Components of a Historic Contest by Barbara Wyatt, each of these section of this study describes:
- how the Civil Rights movement developed and changed with the period;
- why those changes took place;
- what contributions individuals and groups made to those changes;
- and what factors outside of Baltimore contributed to those changes.
What themes does the study cover?
Additional context on specific themes supplements this chronology with more detailed descriptions of key events and patterns. To identify these themes, this study again followed the model of the NHL Civil Rights Framework which suggested a list of key themes represented by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968:
- Equal Education
- Public Accommodation
- Equal Employment
- Criminal Injustice
Our goal with this approach is to connect the significance of associated historic places to the same public policies and social issues that structured the Civil Rights movement itself. This structure also helped us to build on the existing scholarship on Civil Rights history in Baltimore.
What sources did we use for this study?
Since we used Civil Rights in America: A Framework for Identifying Significant Sites (2002, rev. 2009), to establish the framework for this study, it made sense to use the related studies from the series as key sources:
- Civil Rights in America: Racial Desegregation of Public Accommodations (2004, rev. 2009)
- Civil Rights in America: Racial Desegregation in Public Education in the United States (2000) and supplement (2004)
- Civil Rights in America: Racial Voting Rights (2007, rev. 2009)
The study draws on journal articles from Maryland Historical Magazine, Maryland Law Review, and the Journal of African American History. Other key sources include Freedom’s Port: The African American Community of Baltimore, 1790-1860 (1997), Borders of Equality (2013), The Politics of Public Housing (2004), and Baltimore ’68: Riots and Rebirth in an American City (2011).
In addition to these secondary sources, the study relied on a number of digitized primary sources including:
- The Baltimore Sun (ProQuest Historical Newspaper Database)
- The Afro-American Newspaper (ProQuest Historical Newspaper Database)
- Coleman Directories (Maryland State Archives)
1831-1869: Abolition and Emancipation
Between 1831 and 1869, black residents in Baltimore organized in new ways to resist the Colonization movement, advocate for black schools, and promote abolition and emancipation. In some cases, free and enslaved people of color received support from white Baltimoreans—notably members of the Society of Friends (better known as Quakers).
Baltimore’s growing free black population and the growing strength of black institutions, including Sharp Street Church (1797) and Orchard Street Church (1837), led these early efforts. Local black religious leaders and educators, including William Watkins (1803–1858), John Fortie, Trueman Pratt (1775–1877), advocated for the broader community of black Baltimoreans by petitioning city government and trying to shape the views of sympathetic white abolitionists. Outside of Baltimore, the northern abolition movement, the economic challenges following the Panic of 1837 and 1857, and the sweeping changes brought by the Civil War shaped these local changes.
1870-1905: Rights without Reconstruction
Between 1870 and 1905, black Baltimoreans used the new legal rights granted by constitutional changes after the Civil War to win access to local universities, secure the desegregation of city streetcars, and oppose a statewide movement disenfranchise black voters. Frustrated by efforts to organize within the Republican party, African Americans organized independent Civil Rights advocacy organizations that laid a foundation for later organizing efforts. Unfortunately, white racist reaction to these limited gains contributed to increased racial segregation in housing, challenges with police violence against African Americans, and the growing prominence for cultural symbols of white supremacist beliefs.
Emerging national networks of Civil Rights activists, the continued growth of Baltimore’s black population, and the modest gains in wealth and opportunity seen in Baltimore’s emerging black middle-class all played some part in these changes. Notable individual advocates in this period include religious leaders like Rev. Harvey Johnson (1843–1923), business owners like Isaac Myers (1835–1891) and black lawyers and professionals like Everett J. Waring (1859–1914) and Harry S. Cummings (1866-1917). Major organizations included the Mutual United Brotherhood of Liberty (1885). Outside of Baltimore, major factors include the national resurgence of white supremacist cultural beliefs and ideas (exemplified in the reframing of Civil War memory around the “Lost Cause”) and the federal government retreat from enforcing Civil Rights for African Americans.
1906-1929: Segregation and WWI
The period between 1905 and 1929 saw the persistence of the challenges for Baltimore’s African Americans that emerged in the late 19th century. Fortunately, the early 20th century also saw an expanded effort by African American activists to build national organizations and more effective coalitions with white supporters. Migration of African Americans from rural Maryland and Virginia continued reshaping the black neighborhoods and housing. The presentation of the Great Migration as a “crisis” for Baltimore and Maryland helped to drive campaigns in favor of segregated housing and racially disparities in policing.
In the years following World War I, Baltimore saw the rise of a new generation of black leaders. Harry S. Cummings died in 1917, Rev. Dr. William Moncure Alexander in 1919, Rev. Dr. Harvey Johnson who died in 1923. Other individuals came forward, including Carl Murphy (1889-1967) who succeeded his father John Murphy (1840-1922) as the editor and publisher at the Afro American newspaper in 1918. Other notable leaders in this period include Warner T. McGuinn (1859-1937) and W. Ashbie Hawkins (1862-1941).
One of the most significant changes in this period came when women in Baltimore—among them 36,711 black adult women (according to the 1920 Census)—gained the right to vote with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment on August 26, 1920. Other key victories included the 1926 court decision that won salary equality for black teachers and the formation of the state Interracial Commission in 1927.
The cultural significance of white supremacy in the late 19th century continued in the early 20th century with examples including the 1905 novel and play The Clansmen: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan (which toured in Baltimore) and, more famously, the 1915 film The Birth of a Nation, the Confederate Women’s Monument (1917), and the Lee-Jackson Monument (completed in 1948 but commissioned ). The Ku Klux Klan also had a significant local presence holding rallies in Frederick and Baltimore City in 1922.
1930-1954: The Great Depression the Double V Campaign
Between 1929 and 1954, the Civil Rights movement in Baltimore was shaped by a new generation of local activists shaped by the difficulties of the Great Depression and dramatic changes during WWII. Civil Rights activism took on a visibility and significance benefitting from the work of a growing number and increasingly sophisticated Civil Rights advocacy organizations.
Notable local Civil Rights advocates in this period included F. Troy Bailey (1916-1994), Dr. John E.T. Camper (), Lillie Mae Carroll Jackson (1889-1975), Clarence M. Mitchell, Jr. (1911-1984) and Juanita Jackson Mitchell (1913-1992), and Victorine Q. Adams (1912-2006). Other individuals cited earlier continued to play a prominent role including Carl Murphy, editor of the Afro-American. Local African American Civil Rights activists and black organizations also worked with white activists, especially Communist supporters like Bernard Ades (1903-1986) or white political liberals like Theodore McKeldin (1900-1974) in his role as Mayor from 1943 to 1947 or Morris A. Soper (1873-1963) in his role as a jurist and civic leader.
Professional organizations like the Progressive Engineers Association of Maryland (organized in 1938) or MeDeSo (a club for black physicians and dentists established by Dr. J.E.T. Camper and others in 1942) and political groups like the Colored Women’s Democratic Campaign Committee (founded by Victorine Q. Adams in 1946) joined more formal Civil Rights organizations in activism in this period.
Advocacy efforts focused on expanding employment opportunities for African Americans, equity in public welfare programs during the Depression, and fighting for equal public accommodation on city buses and in downtown department stores. One particular area of conflict was public housing for African Americans during WWII. This period also saw the expansion of transportation and lands planning efforts that had a disproportionate effect on black Baltimoreans, such as with the extension of Howard Street, the early planning of the East-West Expressway, the widening of Druid Lake Drive and the conversion of northwest Baltimore streets from two to one-way. Key factors in shaping local activism included the disproportionate affect of unemployment and poverty during the Great Depression on black Baltimoreans; the housing shortage for black Baltimoreans as the city’s population boomed during WWII; and changing post-war expectations in the context of the Cold War.
1955-1968: A Changing City
From 1954 to 1968, Baltimore underwent a dramatic transformation pushed by major changes to local, state and national policies on Civil Rights. Between 1950 and 1953, Baltimore saw small victories for integration—such as integrated seating at Ford’s Theatre (1953)—but even more dramatic changes followed the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954). Not only affecting schools, the decision empowered local activists who used sit-ins to protest segregation at a series of five-and-dimes stores on Lexington Street in 1954 and 1955. By 1960, such protests moved to major downtown department stores and restaurants. Student activists, especially from Morgan State University, played a particularly important role in organizing and supporting these protest actions.
Civil Rights activism in Baltimore provided support and inspiration to the broader national movement—exemplified by CORE’s Route 40 Project in 1961 and their Baltimore Target City Project in 1966.
Other activists also focused on expanding political power for African Americans as the Colored Women’s Democratic Club (organized by Victorian Adams in 1946) election of Verda Welcome to Maryland State Senate in 1962.
Resistance to the Civil Rights movement took different forms. Some white Baltimoreans voted in support of segregationists political candidate George C. Wallace in the 1964 Democratic primary and 1968 general election. Others attended rallies organized by the National States’ Rights Party in Patterson Park or Riverside Park in 1966. Others moved from Baltimore to the quickly developing suburbs to avoid sending their children to the city’s newly integrated schools. Other white Baltimoreans sought to promote integrated neighborhoods through groups like Baltimore Neighborhoods, Inc. founded in 1959 by James Rouse, Ellsworth Rosen, and Sidney Hollander, Jr. The continued development of infrastructure designed to accommodate this automobile-centered regional growth—such as the Baltimore Beltway (I-695) which opened in stages between 1955 and 1962—connected the issue of urban development and Civil Rights.
1969-1976: After the Riots
Two days after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968, Baltimore saw thousands of people rom April 6 to April 14). The signing of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1968—moves that highlight the contradictions of a Civil Rights movement that had seen tremendous progress in securing legal rights and freedoms for African Americans in a region that still denied many the opportunity for equitable education or employment opportunities.
African American leaders continued to establish platforms for activism through the city and state government as in 1968, when the state established the Maryland Commission on Human Relations and, in 1969, the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture (MCAAHC). In 1970, Milton B. Allen won office as the first black elected state’s attorney for Baltimore City, in part, for his outspoken criticism in 1966 of unequal sentencing of black and white people convicted of rape.
It was clear in August 1970 when the U.S. Civil Rights Commission held hearings on suburban development in Baltimore County that the struggle around Civil Rights had shifted to a regional issue—rather than just one limited to Baltimore City. Activism around broader issues of community development continued to develop even after the end of this period with the formation of Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD) in 1977 and the passage of the Community Reinvestment Act that same year.
The response to the riots in Baltimore and elsewhere also included new measures relevant to Civil Rights issues in the present such as the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) established by Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968.