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Introduction

In the years after the the Civil War and the end of slavery, the Fourteenth (1868) and Fifteenth (1870) amendments to the U.S. Constitution laid out a promise of equal protection and new political power for both Black people who had been born free and the thousands more who won their freedom in November 1864. This section begins by describing the context surrounding 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.

This period also saw the growth of white supremacy locally and nationally as white Americans created and promoted Jim Crow segregation while the Democratic Party in the South pursued an aggressive strategy of disenfranchising Black voters. This commitment to segregation came at a critical moment in the Baltimore City’s physical development and growth. In 1888, Baltimore City incorporated a ring of early suburbs with a major annexation. The extension of new electric streetcar lines out into the Annex the early 1890s supported the early growth of rowhouse districts segregated by threats of white violence and, later, restrictive covenants excluding non-white residents.

These interrelated themes of Black activism and white in the are visible around politics of this period, especially the push for disenfranchisement in the early 1900s and national debates over women’s suffrage in the 1910s. Segregation directly shaped the broader patterns of how Baltimore’s Black households occupied homes, created neighborhoods, and used public space. Segregation and discrimination determined the experiences of Black workers seeking jobs and Black students and teachers dealing with unequal schools and salaries. Finally, the system of Baltimore’s police, courts, and prisons, like those elsewhere in Maryland and the South, developed in ways that were deeply unjust for Black Baltimoreans.

Brotherhood of Liberty: 1880s–1900s

On June 22, 1885, Reverend Harvey Johnson invited five Baptist ministers to his home at 775 W. Lexington Street, seeking to make the promise of the Fourteenth Amendment into a daily reality for their Black congregations, families, and neighbors. The group formed the Mutual United Brotherhood of Liberty, with a mission “to use all legal means within our power to procure and maintain our rights as citizens of this our common country.”

Harvey Johnson was born into slavery in Fauquier County, Virginia in 1843 and arrived in Baltimore with his wife, writer Amelia Hall, in 1872 to serve as pastor at Union Baptist Church on Guilford Avenue. Under his leadership, the membership of the church grew to over two thousand people—a powerful base of support for the Brotherhood’s activist agenda. By October 1885, the Brotherhood of Liberty had won its fight to see Everett J. Waring (1859–1914) admitted to the state bar—making him Maryland’s first Black lawyer. Johnson emphasized the importance of Black lawyers to the broader freedom movement, writing:

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!1

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 (entitling unmarried white women but not unmarried Black women to seek financial support for a child from the child’s father). These discriminatory laws, known to activists as the “black laws,” had their roots over twenty-five years earlier in the antebellum era.2 The Brotherhood of Liberty began planning to bring a test case and a group of women connected to the A.M.E church began raising money to pay to take the issue to the state Supreme Court. In early 1888, the Maryland state legislature, facing the legal threats and determined public pressure, delivered an indirect solution. The state updated the code of general public laws and dropped the word “white” from the state’s bastardy laws along with the stated requirements for jury service and admission to the bar.3 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 laws to seek equality under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments.

On September 6, 1888, the Brotherhood of Liberty celebrating their recent victory by hosting a picnic at Irving Park near Annapolis Junction inviting Black Marylanders and friends from D.C. 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 testified before a crowd of two thousand people. He set the stage for action, continuing:

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.4

Historian Dennis Halpin explains that in the late nineteenth century the Brotherhood of Liberty demonstrated “how black activists 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 the model for successful legal activism in the twentieth century most famously championed by Charles Hamilton Houston, dean of Howard University Law School and the NAACP’s first special counsel.5

But Black activists faced a growing challenge: an explicit and pervasive culture of white supremacy that dominated American society and politics in the 1880s and 1890s. “Whites created the culture of segregation in large part to counter black success, to make a myth of racial difference, to stop the rising,” observes Historian Grace Elizabeth Hale.6 From this perspective, it was no surprise that the Maryland legislature rushed to pass a ban on interracial marriage in January 1884—just weeks after Frederick Douglass married Helen Pitts, a white suffragist and abolitionist.7 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.8 In 1891, Baltimore lawyer William Cabell Bruce wrote a short book, entitled The Negro Problem, that made a case for Black disenfranchisement inspired by by Social Darwinism.9 Bruce went on to serve as a state senator from 1894 to 1896, a legal officer for Baltimore City in the early 1900s, and as a U.S. Senator for Maryland from 1923 to 1929.10 By January 1894, speaking before a crowd at Metropolitan A.M.E. Church in Washington, D.C., 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.11

Little more than two years later, the U.S. Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) gave federal approval for Jim Crow policies spreading across the country.

The erection of Confederate monuments in Baltimore is an important illustrative example of how these ideas grew to dominate popular culture by 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, then mayor Ferdinand Latrobe rejected the idea as divisive. Twenty-three years later, on May 2, 1903, hundreds of people, including mayor and Confederate veteran Thomas Hayes, gathered to wave “the battle flag of the old days,” listen to Maryland, My Maryland, and celebrate Marylanders who joined the Southern rebellion forty years earlier.12

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

The 1903 monument followed the Democratic Party’s return to power in local government. 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 election that gave Republicans control of the city and state government for the first time since 1867. Regrettably for the fifty thousand Black Marylanders who helped vote them into office, historian Bettye C. Thomas notes how, “once elevated, the Republicans all but ignored black interests.” At the same time, local Democrats rallied around even more explicit calls for white supremacy by declaring Baltimore a “White Man’s City” and electing Thomas G. Hayes as mayor in 1899. Mayor Hayes and the Democrats appointed to the city school board supported the long sought goal of hiring Black teachers for segregated Black schools as it further reinforced the “complete segregation” of the city’s schools.13 White Democrats throughout the South (Maryland included) responded to the rising power of Black residents disenfranchise Black voters. Deprived of political representation, local and state jurisdictions enacted “Jim Crow” laws segregating public life in countless new ways.14

In 1904, Maryland passed a measure mandating racial segregation on railroad coaches and, in 1908, extended the law to include electric trolley lines and steamboats.15 Historian Bruce Thompson noted that Black opponents to the law in Baltimore secured “an exemption [from the law] for travel within Baltimore, but outside the city limits all blacks suffered the ignominy of being separated.”16

Despite these challenges, Black residents organized to fight back whereever they could. Baltimore’s Black churches, newspapers, political clubs, and civic organizations formed a chorus of people speaking out against the onslaught of attacks on their equal rights. News on local issues and shared national concerns spread through the thirty-one Black newspapers established in Baltimore between 1856 and 1900. However, one of those newspapers holds a unique place in the early development of the modern civil rights movement in Baltimore: the Afro-American. In 1892, John H. Murphy, Sr. (1841-1922), a veteran of the U.S. Colored Troops, established the Afro-American newspaper by merging 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 Reverend William M. Alexander, pastor at Sharon Baptist Church and a founding member of the Brotherhood of Liberty. The combined publication went on to grow into a national Black newspaper publishing in thiteen major cities and to help report on the civil rights movement in Baltimore and throughout the nation throughout the twentieth century.

The city’s growing network of Black activists, religious leaders, and lawyers carried the fight into the early twentieth century by joining a series of interracial coalitions to resist voter disenfranchisement in the early twentieth century. Ultimately, together with thousands of Black people in Maryland and Baltimore, Rev. Harvey Johnson’s Brotherhood of Liberty frustrated “white attempts at disfranchisement and segregation” and laid the foundation for a new generation of activists.17

Baltimore NAACP: 1900s–1920s

Beyond Baltimore, Black resistance, anti-racist activism, and interracial organizing began to take the shape of a new national movement. Published in 1903, The Souls of Black Folks by W.E.B. Du Bois offered a sharp new crtique of the accomodationist approach popularized by Booker T. Washington and his supporters. Du Bois sought to change public opinion and force Americans to recognize that political and civic equality was essential for Black advancement and the health of American democracy.18 After the Springfield race riot of 1908, Du Bois joined a group of white and Black activists in New York City to form the National Negro Committee in 1909. The organization didn’t last long but it was directly followed in 1910 by the formation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

In Baltimore, the Brotherhood of Liberty had faded from existence, but a new generation of activists rallied in opposition to a series of attempts to enact and enforce a residential segregation ordinancebetween 1910 and 1917. In October 1913, Walter T. McGuinn, a local Black attorney argued, “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.”19

A new generation of leaders began to emerge, including some who identified with the “New Negro” movement with a new dedication to militancy in their fight for freedom.20 The growing militancy of local activists faced an entrenched opposition that dominated local government and institutions.

In some cases, Black Baltimoreans pushed back against racism in popular culture. When two advance agents for the notoriously racist play The Clansman arrived in Baltimore in March 1906, waiters at the Saint James Hotel located at the southwest corner of Charles and Centre Streets refused them service in protest reportedly with the encouragement of the “Constitutional League.”21 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 theatre on Fayette Street near Eutaw Street, hosted the show for seven weeks reportedly “beating all records for length of run and for receipts.”22 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 article quotes a “colored man” calling it “the most disgusting thing I have ever seen,” and a white man coming out of a Saturday performance, saying “I should like to kill all of the damn niggers in the United States.”23

A new Baltimore chapter of the NAACP was established in 1912 but initially struggled with uncertain leadership and limited financial support. President Woodrow Wilson’s move to resegregate the federal workforce and facilities in Washington, D.C. led the Baltimore branch to join activsts in Boston, Detroit, Topeka, Denver, Takoma, Seattle, and Oakland in holding mass protests and writing letters to the President protesting what the NAACP called Wilson’s “officializing race prejudice.”24 In the 1910s, the Baltimore NAACP continued the legal campaign started by Black lawyers in 1910 to defeat a series local housing segregation ordinances. The campaign included a number of notable Black lawyers, including W. Ashbie Hawkins (1862–1941), Warner T. McGuinn (1859–1937), and George W. F. McMechen (1871–1961).

Organizing remained difficult and, at times, frustrating for the nascent NAACP locally and nationally. In June 1920, Addie Hunton came to Baltimore as a field organizer and helped to sign up two thousand new member that fall, but without active leadership the organization did not sustain the new support. She returned to Baltimore in January 1923 for a mass meeting where she spoke alongside A.M.E. Bishop John Hurst and wondered, “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.”25 The local anti-lynching movement of the early 1920s faltered by the late 1920s as all efforts by the national NAACP to push federal anti-lynching legislation through U.S. Congress had been unsuccessful. Despite their success in overturning some aspects of the city’s de jure segregation, Black activists were overwhelmed by the persistence of white neighbors who remained firmly committed to enforcing de facto residential segregation.

Building political and social power

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 reflects on the difficulty in interpreting “racial uplift ideology” as “an anti-racist argument” used by an educated Black elite, describing uplift as a “a complex, varied and sometimes flawed response”:

to a situation in which the range Uplift ideology undermined collective social advancement.of political options for African American leaders was limited by the violent and pervasive racism of the post-Reconstruction United States.26

While unable to overturn the racist 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.27 Baltimore’s early Black teachers, including Roberta Sheridan (c. 1864–1918) and Joseph H. Lockerman (1863–1923), worked under the burden of unequal pay and poor building conditions but remained dedicated to providing the best education they could to their Black students.28 Women took on key leadership roles as volunteers and paid staff to philanthropic groups such as the CYWCA (founded in 1896) and the Colored Fresh Air and Empty Stocking Circle (established in 1904 by Ida R. Cummings and other members of the CYWCA).29

In the 1890s, a national resurgence of the antebellum lyceum movement, led many members of Baltimore’s Black middle class to form literary societies. For example, the “Du Bois Circle” was founded in Baltimore in 1906 for “social uplift and higher literary attainment” with regular meetings for discussion on both literature and current issues affecting the city’s Black residents. Like the United Order of Moses and the Empty Stocking Circle, literary societies also played an meaningful role in sharing political opinions, sharing mutual aid for Black neighbors, and organizing their resistance to Jim Corw 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.”30

Reverend George Freeman Bragg (1863–1940) is an example of a supporter of “uplift” whose experiences also illustrate the changing geography of Black life in this period. Born in North Carolina on January 25, 1863, Bragg’s early years were shaped by the Civil War and Reconstruction. Ordained as a deacon in Virginia in 1887, he entered the priesthood in 1888 and arrived in Baltimore in 1891 with a passion for fostering independent leadership within the Black church. He joined the sixty-six-year old St. James’ Church that was then located downtown 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. Throughout the early twentieth century, Bragg was a prominent speaker and writer on a varierty of issues related to the role of Black congregations within the white church, Black religious history, and a variety of civil rights issues. His writing, however, reflects the complexities and contradictions inherent to Baltimore’s uplift movements more broadly. In 1904, Bragg joined dozens of other Black pastors in speaking out against proposals to disenfranchise Black voters by calling it “an eteral disgrace” concluding “It 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.”31 In 1906, Bragg sent a letter to the Sun reflecting on the role of white judges and officers “unconsciously” prejudiced against Black people, in the broader criminal justice system, writing:

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.32

In another letter in 1918, Bragg made the case for recognizing “white people who have helped the colored race” (including Mrs. William Cabell Bruce and others as examples), writing:

Contact of the best of the white race with black people will beget the same likeness in the ebony. There in is security and peace.33

Bragg’s views mix a recognition of the importance of Black solidarity with an appeal to the sympathies of white Baltimoreans.34 When middle-class African Americans in his congregation continued to move even farther west, Bragg moved St. James again to Lafayette Square in 1932 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 1934.35

St. James’ Church, 2018 February 15. Baltimore Heritage (CC0).
St. James’ Church, 2018 February 15. Baltimore Heritage (CC0).

Republican lawyer Harry S. Cummings (1866-1917) also employed the language of “uplift” while serving on the First Branch of the Baltimore City Council.36 Twenty-six-year old, Baltimore-native Harry Cummings won election representing the city’s eleventh ward in 1890 by just a little over one hundred votes out of 3,472 counted (about three percent). He 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.”37 In September 1894, Cummings spoke at a “colored people’s fair” organized by the Baltimore County Industrial Association at the Timonium fair grounds. 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.”38 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.39 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 1917.40

Uplift and electoral politics were not the only routes activists explored in this period. Some activists focused on the need to support the independence of Black communities from racist white institutions. Under Rev. Harvey Johnson’s leadership, for example, Union Baptist Church withdrew from the Maryland Baptist Union Association in 1892 in response to discriminatory pay for black pastors and unequal authority for the Black churches belonging to the association.41 In September 1897, Johnson delivered a speech in Boston, titled “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?42

In 1898, Rev. Johnson organized the Colored Baptist Convention of Maryland. He also later played an active role in the founding of the Niagara Movement on July 1, 1905.

Other efforts were difficult to sustain. One example is the rise and fall of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) first established in Ohio by Marcus Garvey in 1914. Pastor and educator Rev. James Robert Lincoln Diggs (1866-1922) at Trinity Baptist Church established the Baltimore chapter in 1918 (and later presided over Garvey’s 1921 marriage to Amy Jacques Garvey). Trinity Baptist Church also hosted the annual convention for the National Equal Rights League on October 20-22, 1920. The conference was presided over by Rev. J.H. Taylor, secretary of the Maryland Association for Social Service, with speakers including Monroe Trotter, Nathan S. Taylor from Chicago, and Trinity’s Reverend Diggs.43 But, by the early 1920s, the National Equal Rights League had lost much of its membership to the NAACP. The UNIA declined in size and prominence after founder Marcus Garvey was arrested in 1925 and deported to Jamacia in 1927.

Fraternal organizations represented yet another emerging center of political power and organizing. Such groups shared space with political organizations as when the Samaritan Temple at Calvert and Saratoga Streets hosted a “Colored Republican Mass-Meeting” in June 1884.44 Another 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. 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. A joint meeting of African American mutual aid societies in Baltimore in 1884 turned out forty organizations with a combined membership of 2,100 people. By 1900, the city had over seventy 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.45

Equal protection before Plessy v. Ferguson: 1880s–1894

Despite these challenges, African American activists succeeded in gaining a small measure of economic security, successfully defended the right to vote for black men, and continued to campaign for equality in education and housing. Such activist efforts led to key legal victories in 1885 when the Stewart Sisters successfully sued the Baltimore, Chesapeake, and Richmond Steamboat Co. for racial discrimination and when Charles L. Wilson succeeded in his suit to overturn the exclusion of Black residents to the Maryland Bar.46 Under Reverend Johnson and others, the Brotherhood focused on defending the rights Black Americans had won in the years after the Civil War.

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” but not “strengthen, re-establish, or expand black civil rights.”47 Thompson writes:

These were important victories for the civil rights struggle because they showed that blacks could respond to segregation and the abridgement of rights and helped set the stage for the civil rights movement.48

Thompson continues to explain:

The law was used to defend black civil rights against encroachments by whites. Never did the Brotherhood initiate proceedings to strengthen, re-establish, or expand black civil rights.49

In the 1880s, the Brotherhood of Liberty also worked to amend the state Bastardy Act, challenge laws prohibiting intermarriage, push for improved education for black students, and represent the rights of black workers prosecuted during the Navassa Island trial (where a group of Black workers were indicted for rioting after that rose up in protest over brutal conditions in a remote guano mining operation).

Following the 1894 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson (establishing the “separate but equal” doctrine), local and state government, as well as private businesses, expanded efforts to exclude Black people from equal access to public life. In December 1898, the Afro-American reflected on how segregationists had framed the debate in terms of “social rights,” noting:

The Negro does not now nor has he ever contended for social rights with the white people. Social rights take care of themselves and no one can force them otherwise than where they belong. Meeting in lodge rooms does not carry with it meeting in parlors, or in dining rooms, or in the bosoms of families, riding in sleeping cars, eating and sleeping in hotels, or any other civil rights does not compel any man to invite any other man to his bed and board.50

The aforementioned Maryland state laws requiring segregated railroad and steamboat travel (as well as electric streetcars outside of Balitmore City) were a significance source of frustration and conflict for Black Marylanders in this period but efforts to challenge the law were unsuccessful. Baltimore lawyer W. Ashbie Hawkins argued a test case against the racist transportation ordinance in 1920 without success and the law remained on the books up until 1951.51

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, printed ballots meant very few ballots were “thrown out on the account of disfiguration or other inaccuracies.”52 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.

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). Disenfranchisement efforts had spread across the country after Mississippi passed a new state constitution in 1890 that disenfranchised black voters (the so-called “Mississippi Plan”). White legislators and voters in Delaware, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri all enacted similar policies around this time.53 In Maryland, the proposed changes threatened to eliminate the right to vote to 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 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.54

A mass meeting of around one hundred women at the Perkins Square Baptist Church (later demolished for the construction of George B. Murphy Homes) in October rallied opposition to the amendment.55 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 1908.56 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 thirty-eight thousand votes in 1910.57

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. Historian Bruce Thompson observes:

Only in a few wards did the black vote make a difference in local elections. In 1931, four wards had a black majority and three others were evenly populated by blacks and whites.58

In the 1910s and 1920s, Black voters in the city’s Fourteenth and Seventeenth wards helped elect a series of Black Republicans to the City Council including Harry S. Cummings, Warner T. McGuinn, Walter Emerson. In the 1930s, Black representation declined as Black voters split between their past alleigance to the Republican party and an emerging support for the Democratic Party.59

Suffrage and Black women organizing: 1890s–1920s

The ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920 marked 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 civil rights movement throughout the twentieth century.

The road for black women activists was a rocky one from the start. Following the 1890 merger of the National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association, an alliance that formed the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), the broader national suffrage movement began to systematically exclude black women in a bid to win more support from Southern white women and political leaders. The segregation of the suffrage movement encouraged the organization of independent groups for black women beginning with the Colored Women’s League in Washington, D.C. in June 1892. In another example of black women organizing for suffrage, in 1896, the Colored Women’s League merged with the National Federation of African American Women to form the National Association of Colored Women.

As at the national level, in Maryland the women’s suffrage movement, led by groups such as Bassie Ellicott’s Equal Suffrage League of Baltimore and Emma Maddox Funck’s Maryland Suffrage Association, faced stiff opposition in the state legislature. A number of white-led suffragist organizations, Carrie Chapman Catt’s League of Women Voters 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 and argued that suffrage for women would not challenge the white supremacist agenda of disenfranchising black voters.60 In March 1909, white Baltimore suffragist Edith Houghton Hooker hosted a meeting where Rev. Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, president of the National American Suffrage Association, 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.61

Black women, however, could 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 Ledger 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.”62 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.

Anew “Auxiliary Republican Committee” chaired by Dr. Ernest Lyon and met at 414 W. Hoffman Street. The group was 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).63

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 planned 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.”64

When the House of Representatives voted on the 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 their main reason.65 In 1919, when the Senate considered the Nineteenth Amendment, Maryland’s Senators split over the issue, with Democratic Senator John Walter Smith voting against the proposed amendment and Republican Senator Joseph I. France voting for it. When the measure came before the Maryland legislature for ratification on February 24, 1920, it was rejected again due to opposition to letting Black women vote. Despite Maryland’s rejection of the measure, the Nineteenth Amendment won support in thirty-six states, and, with the approval of Tennessee on August 18, it became part of the U.S. Constitution on August 26, 1920.

Black Baltimoreans quickly turned to getting women registered and ready to vote. Colored Women’s Suffrage Club, led up by Mrs. Howard E. Young, held weekly meetings at Y.W.C.A. urging Black women to register at the polls on the very first registration day: September 21, 1920. Mrs. Young saw voting, in part, as one way challenge the prejudice deployed against Black women during the debate over women’s suffrage, remarking:

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.66

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.67

Homes and neighborhoods: 1880s–1900s

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 but, in large part, promoted the residential segregation of Black residents and the creation of Black neighborhoods. Even as late as 1880, the city’s black population could be found distributed evenly over three-quarters of Baltimore’s twenty wards and eight districts.

By 1890, however, a large share of Black Baltimoreans lived in the Eleventh Ward ) where over 11,000 of the 21,269 residents were identified as “colored” (making it 51.74% non-white). Black Baltimoreans around the city center faced displacement through industrial and commercial development such as the expansion of the B&O railroad yards in the 1900s and the development of War Memorial Plaza and Preston Gardens in the 1910s. 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. Despite such restrictions, Black residents sought better housing conditions and better access to parks, schools, or churches by leaving central Baltimore for the an older generation of suburban neighborhoods in northwest and east Baltimore.

By 1904, the city’s Northwestern District (including the Eleventh Ward) held more than forty percent of Baltimore’s 81,381 Black residents.68 This section describes how Baltimore’s segregated Black neighborhoods emerged as distinct areas of rowhouses occupied by Black households, segregated Black schools and religious buildings built or converted for use by Black congregations.

Continuing the pattern of Black life after the Civil War, Black residents included both impoverished migrants and an emerging community of Black middle class residents. Historian Willard B. Gatewood described a “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.69

Poor housing and sanitary conditions in the areas Baltimore closest to the harbor and the city center pushed many middle-class Black households to seek housing in the western and northwestern suburbs. These areas originally developed between the 1850s and 1880s along the city’s horse-drawn omnibus routes. But by the early twentieth century, affuluent white residents preferred the detached housing being developed even farther outside the city center. Sprawling suburban development was also supported 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 into previously segregated areas. Anne McMechen, George McMechen’s wife, later explained her family’s aspirations for their 1910 move to McCulloh Street, “we wanted to be more comfortable—a right I think everyone has to exercise.”70 Black Baltimoreans who could afford to move left the formerly “aristocratic St. Paul street section,” south Baltimore, and east Baltimore to for the northwest area.71

Industrial and commercial development around the harbor, the destruction of over fifteen hundred buildings in the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904, and the city’s subsequent work to widen downtown streets all contributed to the displacement of Black residents in the city center. Reverend Levi Coppin, pastor of Bethel A.M.E. Church from 1881 to 1883, called out the changing conditions around their 1847 sanctuary in 1881, suggesting “Bethel could not remain indefinitely in Saratoga St., among the iron foundries and hold a leading place among the Churches.” The congregation ignored their pastor’s entreaties to move until 1909 when the city condemned their building to make way for a wider Saratoga Street. In January 1911, the church finally moved to northwest Baltimore with the purchase of a white church building at Druid Hill and Lafayette Avenues.72 In contrast, other residents experienced more sudden and brutal displacements. In 1905, the B&O Railroad began buying up property in the area.73 Two years later, in June 1907, after a court injunction preventing the demolition of a three-story tenement at 912 Sharp Street ran out, the B&O Railroad gave the Black residents just thirty minutes notice before they started tearing down their home.74

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 charged by white landlords in West Baltimore claiming Black tenants on Argyle and Myrtle Avenues, McCulloh, Lanvale, and Stricker Streets paid at least twenty percent more than the white households that had very recently lived there. Black residents seeking to buy a home had their own unjust obstacles to overcome. Many tenants who sought to purchase their homes ran afoul of exploitative rent-to-own schemes. The Afro concluded their report on segregation and housing conditions for Black Baltimoreans, observing:

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.75

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 bought Saint Peter’s Protestant Episcopal Church (erected on Druid Hill Avenue in 1868). 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, in other words, a square deal.” The next address came from James P. Matthews, an old member of the St. Peter’s congregation that built the church in 1868, who reflected 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 ultimately not prevent members who sought “acquire homes within easy reach of the church.”76

Other congregations built new sanctuaries typically using services from white builders and architects. Examples include Saint Peter Claver Catholic Church (erected on Pennsylvania Avenue in 1888) and Union Baptist Church (built on Druid Heights Avenue in 1905). Sharp Street Church purchased an existing church at Dolphin and Etting Streets then tore it down to erect a new building in 1892.

Year of move Church Prior location New location
1888 St. Peter Claver Catholic Church Calvert and Pleasant Streets N. Fremont and Pennsylvania Avenue
1898 Sharp Street Church Sharp Street and Pratt Street Dolphin and Etting Street
1901 St. James Episcopal Church E. Lexington and Guilford Avenue Street77 Park Avenue and Preston Street
1905 Union Baptist Church Guilford Avenue Druid Hill Avenue and Dolphin Street
1911 Bethel A.M.E. Church Saratoga Street and Gay Street Druid Hill Avenue and W. Lanvale Street

By the late 1920s, the area occupied by Black residents, churches, and schools in West Baltimore included parts of the neighborhoods now known as Madison Park, Upton, Druid Heights, Harlem Park, and Sandtown-Winchester. In 1926, the Afro described 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.78

Excluding Black tenants and homeowners: 1890s–1920s

White violence and racial segregation ordinances: 1890s–1917

White residents, elected officials, and developers used a variety of approaches to create and maintain segregated white neighborhoods. These include physical attacks on Black households and their properties, discrimination against Black people in public parks, enacting a city ordinance to enforce housing segregation, adding restrictive covenants during development, and employing physical design to exclude Black residents or separate segregated white neighborhoods from areas of Black occupancy.

Historian Dennis P. Halpin has argued that the efforts to exclude Black residents from certain areas predate the legislative controversy of the 1910s resting on a foundation of violent white attacks on Black households in the late 1890s and early 1900s.79 One of the earliest documented incidents took place near the end of August in 1899, just one day after John Lang, a fifity-five-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 home breaking all the windows and forcing Lang’s wife and children to “shut themselves in a room” for safety.80 The Lang household was the only “colored” family on the block (the next nearest living south of Lanvale Street). The attack took place just four months after white Democrats in the fourteenth ward had rallied at 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, claimed that the growth of the city’s Black population threatened to “depreciate the value of property.”81 Attacks continued and, in May 1902, after Black tenants rented a home at 1705 Druid Hill Avenue, assailants smashed three front windows with thrown potatoes and poured cans of sticky tar onto the home’s white marble steps and window sills.82 In September 1910, similar attacks took place at 1802 and 1804 McCulloh Street and, in 1913, an attack by white men on 1324 Mosher Street provoked a crowd of nearby Black residents to respond in kind resulting in the injury of five people (including a police officer).83

A comic showing a group of white men throwing stones at a rowhouse labelled “Home of a Colored Citizens” while a police officer stands by ignoring the crowd. Above the comic is the heading, “Civilization as it is understood in America,” and below is the caption, “Policeman Watching to Keep Negroes Away While the Mob Gets in its Work.” Originally published in The Afro-American Newspaper, September 27, 1913. Courtesy ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
A comic showing a group of white men throwing stones at a rowhouse labelled “Home of a Colored Citizens” while a police officer stands by ignoring the crowd. Above the comic is the heading, “Civilization as it is understood in America,” and below is the caption, “Policeman Watching to Keep Negroes Away While the Mob Gets in its Work.” Originally published in The Afro-American Newspaper, September 27, 1913. Courtesy ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

For years, white advocates of racial segregation had sought to make it illegal to rent or sell to Black households in so-called white areas and to enlist the police in enforcing these boundaries. On December 19, 1910, Baltimore City passed a new law require the racial segregation of residential blocks in Baltimore. Known commonly as the West Ordinance after the bill’s proponent Councilman Samuel T. West, the bill was inspired when a Black lawyer purchased a home on the 1800 block of McCulloh Street which was occupied exclusively by white residents. As the first residential segregation law in the country, the ordinance has been the subject of detailed scholarly study over the past thirty years.84 Historian Bruce Thompson described how the 1910 housing segregation ordinance worked, writing:

This ordinance prohibited blacks from purchasing or occupying houses on blocks in which fifty-one percent of the dwellers were white. Similarly, whites could not move into blocks that were predominantly black.

Within a month of the bill coming into effect, twenty-six cases were brought before local courts.. According to Thompson, in the very first case, the judge “ruled that the law was invalid because it was drawn incorrectly.”85

After the court overturned the first ordinance, the City Council passed a similar ordinance on April 7, 1911. The Council then quickly repealed and replaced the bill with a third segregation ordinance on May 15, 1911, 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.86

In 1917, the U.S. Supreme Court decision Buchanan v. Warley (1917) declared racial segregation ordinances (including Baltimore’s) unconstitutional. While the decision limited the enforcement of Baltimore’s segregation ordinance to less than seven years, the measure had a lasting effect, as Dennis Halpin notes:

By the end of the 1910s, black Baltimoreans’ resistance to the ordinances remade the city’s racial geography. Nevertheless, they struggled to challenge the strategies segregationists used in the wake of the laws’ demise.87

Historian Dennis Doster suggests that the national NAACP’s later advocacy around residential segregation has roots in their legal fight over segregation in Baltimore.88 As Halpin and others explain, however, 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 decision.

Deed restrictions and exclusion by design: 1890s–1920s

Local builders and developers almost never erected new homes for black buyers in the first half of the twentieth century. Developers advertised their deed restrictions when building and selling new homes to white Baltimoreans. 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. A few of the most notable examples of exclusion in Baltimore’s segregated white suburbs are Roland Park (developed beginning in 1891), Guilford (developed beginning in 1913) and Homeland (developed beginning in 1924). These north Baltimore neighborhoods served as models of racial exclusion for developers around the country. Historian Paige Glotzer explains 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. Other developers frequently requested copies of its deed restrictions.89

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

Glotzer continues to note that at the national level, the National Association of Real Estate Boards (NAREB) adopted a Code of Ethics in 1913, the same year the Roland Park Company began using racial restrictions in deeds, and then revised the code in 1924 to prevent any realtor 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.90

The Roland Park Company also planned physical boundaries between their 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, the same settlement where it later located its sewage disposal field.”91

Not all older neighborhoods could create the physical barriers employed by the Roland Park Company but they could use racial covenants. In January 1924, two hundred members of six West Baltimore “protective associations” met to fight the movement of Black households into these western neighborhoods. The crowd at the Fulton Avenue Presbyterian Church (located at Fulton Avenue and Monroe Street) listened to Dr. C.P. Woodward, city 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.92

The meeting sparked a campaign to seek signed commitments from sixteen hundred property owners in the blocks bounded by North Avenue, Pennsylvania Avenue and Bentalou Street who would promise not to sell to Black buyers. The Afro-American, reported on the meeting, summarizing the sentiment as, “Negroes should be put in a bag and pitched overboard.”93

The racist panic by their white neighbors prompted Black Baltimoreans to dedicate new resources to organizing efforts. 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.”94

In a February 1924 editorial, the Afro-American commented on organized efforts to prevent “Negro invasion” as a “phase of segregation… 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.”

Claimed the “dominant desire” of the Inter-Racial Commission is “to preserve good feelings between the races” and “missed a chance for definite good when it failed to state plainly whether it is for or against segregation.”95

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

When proponents of segregation took legal action to promote segregation policies, their efforts were less successful. For example, in 1918, a group of white residents in Lauraville attempted to have the 1917 sale of the Ivy Mill property to Morgan College revoked by the circuit court in Towson. The court dismissed the case and, after the Lauraville residents appealed, the state court upheld the lower court’s decision.96 Morgan Park, later home to W.E.B. Du Bois and Dr. Carl J. Murphy, and Howard Park in northeast Baltimore grew up despite the opposition of white neighbors.97

Urban reform efforts and the Great Migration: 1900s–1920s

Housing and “progressive” urban reform efforts in the early twentieth century require special attention as an area where debates over housing and public health collided with white supremacy, uplift movements, and anti-racist activism amid a quickly growing city with a growing Black population. At the national level, the Great Migration helped shaped the debate over poverty and housing conditions in cities with fast-growing Black populations. In New York City, the Great Migration prompted reformers to meet on September 29, 1910 and establish the Committee on Urban Conditions Among Negroes (later known as the National Urban League). But, unlike New York, Chicago, Cleveland, and other northern and midwestern cities 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. By 1930, 59.4% of Baltimore’s Black population were born in Maryland.98

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 housing in Baltimore.99 In 1894, Carroll D. Wright, a white statistician who served as the U.S. Commissioner of Labor between 1885 and 1905, submitted a report entitled The Slums of Baltimore, Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia to Congress. 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.100 Regardless of the stated charitable or philanthropic intent, the design of the local housing reform agenda was, in many cases, clearly shaped by white interests. One notable example is the large-scale clearance of the blocks of housing along Saint Paul Street (largely occupied by Black residents) to make way for the development of Preston Gardens in the 1910s. The new park removed blocks of Black occupied housing near the Baltimore City Courthouse and City Hall, turned St. Paul Street into a major thoroughfare designed for automotive traffic, and encouraged the substantial commercial redevelopment of property adjoining the park.101

White-led reform efforts paralleled and, at times, responded to Black efforts to address both poverty and discrimination among the city’s Black residents. Baltimore’s Colored Young Men’s Christian Association organized in 1893 following an 1891 meeting on the topic hosted by the Brotherhood of Liberty with William A. Hunton, the first YMCA executive of color in the United States.102 The organization grew and, in 1919, erected the Druid Hill Avenue Branch of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). In 1898, Rev. Ernest Lyon, pastor of the John Wesley Methodist Episcopal Church, delivered a paper, “Mortality Among Colored People,” before the city’s Ministerial Union inspired some early efforts 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 and health department “take little pains to give the streets and houses proper attention” and noted how the “exclusion of the colored men from labor organizations” forced Black workers to accept low wages so they could not afford to buy “the proper kind of food.”103 Between 1906 and 1908, Dr. James Waring, a black physician and principal of the Colored High School, led a group of prominent Black lawyers, doctors, ministers, educators, and business leaders known as the Colored Law and Order League. The group published a report in 1908 summarizing the results of their study and highlighting the concentration of white-owned saloons in close proximity to Black churches and schools.104

A map showing location of saloons in the “lower Druid Hill Avenue district” from the Work of the Colored Law and Order League (1908). The caption reads: “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.”
A map showing location of saloons in the “lower Druid Hill Avenue district” from the Work of the Colored Law and Order League (1908). The caption reads: “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.”

Black women played an especially important role in organizing and advocacy around social welfare and community needs beyond just housing.105 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.”106 After the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904, the Colored Empty Stocking and Fresh Air Circle organized to support Black dependent children.107 The “Empty Stocking Circle” served as an African American counterpart to a charity led by local white women to make Christmas special for Baltimore’s poor children. The “Colored Empty Stocking Circle” hosted events at churches, including St. John’s A.M.E. Church and Union Baptist Church, often drew more than a thousand people. On August 1, 1908, The Freeman reported on the group’s successful fundraising events at Druid Hill Avenue, writing:

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. A number of improvements have been made, and it is stated that the price paid for the farm is $1,750. Miss Ida R. Cummings is president of the circle.

In 1910, the N.M. Carroll Chapter of Sharp Street Church’s Epworth League opened a coffee shop and soup house in the “Windsor Flats” area of Baltimore.108 Another example is the Women’s Cooperative Civic League formed in 1913 “at the request of a group of white citizens to address housing, health, sanitation, and educational problems resulting from the rapid urban growth.” Led by Sara Fernandis, the organization divided responsibility for different wards of the city among a group of community activists and grew their membership to one hundred and thirty by 1914.109

Felicia L. Jamison attributes the rise of female leadership within Sharp Street United Methodist Church to the fundraising work that women put towards paying down a $70,000 debt for the new church building erected in 1898.110 In 1914, 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.”111 Efforts by female activists at Sharp Street Church culminated in 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.”112 The Community House Annual Report for 1921-1922 describes how the center sought:

[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.113

While church groups played an important role, historian Cynthia Neverdon-Morton has argued the interdenominational nature of this work was key as church women throughout the city “regardless of class or level of education, worked together in a number of social and charitable organizations to better their community.”114 The local efforts were also closely connected to a broader national movement. For example, in August 1916, Bethel A.M.E. Church hosted the tenth biennial meeting of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs.115

Employment discrimination: 1880s–1920s

Clearly the issues of housing and neighborhood conditions at the center of late nineteenth and early twentieth century reform efforts were closely related to the employment discrimination experienced by Black men and women of all different class backgrounds. White elected officials avoided any efforts to limit racial discrimination against Black workers and Democrats used concern over the topic as a means to undermine support for Republicans among white voters. For example, in October 1889, Baltimore’s city council considered an ordinance regulating hiring by the city commissioner’s office and narrowly voted down an amendment by Councilman D. Meredith Reese limiting employment to “white citizens” only. Reese opposed “mingling white and colored men in work,” argued the “colored workman is not equal to the white workman,” and, when his colleague’s questioned the constitutionality of the amendment, Reese argued that the Fourteenth Amendment did not apply to Baltimore City.116 Such discrimination was particularly galling in areas of public employment after a Republican administration took office in 1895. But, despite Black voters making up an estimated one-third of Republicans in Baltimore City, an 1898 editorial in the Afro-American observed that Mayor Hooper had named only three Black superintendents to the street department (where they supervised groups of Black workers)—a sharp contrast with the six or seven hundred white people appointed to all city agencies.117

The isolation of Black workers from the broader national labor movement since the collapse of the Colored National Labor Union around 1871 and the segregation of Baltimore unions undermined efforts to organize Black workers. In one notable exception, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) (whose members were known as Wobblies) undertook an organizing drive among Black longshoremen on the east coast beginning in 1917. In Baltimore, Ben Fletcher, a Black labor leader and organizer for IWW from Philadelphia worked to organized dock workers in the late 1910s and early 1920s until he was arrested in Pennsylvania and jailed until 1923 along with other Wobblies arrested under repressive laws enacted to attack industrial worker organizing during World War One.118 Despite such setbacks, Wobblies and ex-Wobblies remained active in Baltimore in the 1920s through the Marine Workers League.119

One of the most important organizations addressing the issue of employment discrimination in this period was the Baltimore Urban League. Historian Ralph L. Pearson quotes a 1950 Urban League publication tracing the group’s founding to the 1919 Hague Conference on World Friendship (reportedly “the first volunteer gathering of representatives from the warring nations after World War I”).120 As the group began to organize, it enlisted the assistance of the National Urban League’s Department of Research and Investigations to conduct a three-month study of Baltimore industries and black workers beginning in March 1922.121 The study found that sixty-two of the one hundred and seventy-five industrial plants that were investigated, employing 20,735 people, refused to hire Black workers. The study led to a meeting at the Emmanuel Church Parish House on May 7, 1924 to formally establish a local Urban League chapter.122

The new group, directed by R. Maurice Moss, a white social worker, undertook a wide range of efforts beyond their initial focus on discrimination against Black workers. Over the next few years, the new organization helped to promote the development of Provident Hospital; conducted a survey of housing conditions in the area bounded by Druid Hill and Pennsylvania avenues, Biddle and Preston streets (the so-called “Lung Block” for its high tuberculosis rate); and organized a Black division of the Playground Athletic League.123

Public accomodation and public space: 1900s-1920s

While hotels and theatres had been segregated for decades, Jim Crow policies now offered residents segregated parks and other public spaces. For Thurgood Marshall, growing up in Baltimore in the 1910s and 1920s, he recalled: “The only thing different between the South and Baltimore was trolley cars. They weren’t segregated. Everything else was segregated.”124 Both integrated and segregated public spaces offered opportunities for minor acts of resistance and oppression that shaped lives of Black Baltimoreans. 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.

Early 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 a pastor at John Wesley Methodist Episcopal Church, to get legislators to abandon the change. A proposal to extend Jim Crow to electric streetcars in Baltimore failed in the mid 1910s after an extended opposition campaign led by Black attorney W. Ashbie Hawkins.125

Later in 1904, park Superintendent W.W. Crosby established a new rule for Druid Hill Park “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 Commissioner on August 1, 1905 brought their case to reverse the change.126

Schools and colleges: 1880s–1900s

Advocacy for teachers and students in a segregated system: 1880s–1910s

Early advocacy efforts for the improvement of Black public schools in the twenty years after the Civil War were generally short-lived and had little influence on school policies. In fall of 1885, at the first public meeting of the new Brotherhood of Liberty, participants focused the discussion on the need for Black teachers at segregated Black schools and equal facilities for Black students. The discussion led to the formation of the Maryland Educational Union (largely directed by the Brotherhood) which held a public meeting on May 3, 1887 to call on Black residents to support a resolution pledging “continued agitation” around inequitable education. The Union secured support from three members of the City Council and the Mayor who authorized the Board of School Commissioners to hire Black teachers. The school commissioners, however, set a policy barring the hiring of white teachers at any school that already employed Black teacher but did nothing to expand the number of Black schools employing Black educators.127 While severely limited in scope, the change was still a milestone and, in 1888, Baltimore school officials appointed Roberta B. Sheridan as the first Black teacher in the city’s public schools.128 In 1888, Sheridan began teaching at the Annex Colored School No. 1 in Waverly before moving to teach at School No. 9 at Carrolton and Riggs Avenue in West Baltimore the next year. Historian Leroy Graham reflected on the significance of the move:

With the acceptance of black teachers and a publicly funded high school, the blacks of Baltimore could breathe a sigh of relief after such a long and difficult struggle.129

Facilities for Black schools continued to languish from neglect in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. When the school board delayed in creating a new school for Black residents in northwest Baltimore, members of the Maryland Educational Union conerted Sharon Baptist Church into a school that soon grew to hold three hundred students.130 The school board finally relented and overrode objections from nearby residents to erect the Colored Primary No. 9 (later Public School No. 111) at 1024 N. Carrollton Avenue which opened in 1889 with twelve Black teachers. The enrollment of Black schools had grown from 901 students at just ten schools in 1867 to 9,383 students at twenty-seven schools in 1900. High school enrollment grew from eighteen students in 1883 to ninety-three students in 1900. But the number of Black teachers had hardly changed since 1888 with only thirty five Black teachers working in 1896 compared to 175 white teachers. All thirty-five Black educators worked at the same school: Colored Primary No. 9. Finally, after the Republican electoral victory in 1895, the mayor and city council took a bill previously offered by Black Republican City Councilman Dr. J. Marcus Cargill and changed policies to begin turning over schools from segregated white staffing to segregated Black staffing. After the Democrats retook the city government in 1899, the pace of change acceelerated as part of a broader reorganization for the city school system.131 By the beginning of the 1902 school year, the city had over ten thousand students and one hundred and sixty-six teachers in the eighteen segregated black schools—nine of which were staffed entirely by black teachers. And, by 1907, all of the teachers for the Baltimore City Division of Colored Schools were African American.132

In most cases, the city’s segregated Black school buildings were originally erected for white students. For example, Public School No. 103 (1877) at 1315-1327 Division Street was converted in 1910 for use by Black students (later including a young Thurgood Marshall). The former Western High School (later Book T. Washington Middle School) at 1301 McCulloh Street was converted in 1928 to house the Coppin Normal School, Colored Junior High School, and offices for the Baltimore colored school administration.

In addition to advocating for schools where black children could attend, Baltimore leaders also began pushing the city to start hiring black teachers.

A decade later, the appointment of James H. Van Sickel, a school reformer Denver, as Superintendent of the Baltimore schools marked another major change as the city began hiring black principals and vice-principals.133

However, many of the city’s segregated black schools operated out of older buildings with fewer resources than white schools. Of the eighteen schools open to African American students in 1900 many were built before the Civil War, 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).134

Historian Samuel Kelton Roberts noted the challenges for black students attending the city’s segregated schools, writing:

Baltimore’s black public schools were crowded and in disrepair, housed in the cast-off buildings left behind as whites moved to better facilities. … Despite the reorganization of the city government and the educational system, no new black schools were built between 1898 and 1915.135

Frequently, white Baltimoreans opposed the location of Black schools near segregated white neighborhoods or the conversion of public schools for use by Black students. For example, one resident complained the presence of Morgan College at Fulton and Edmondson Avenues in a 1913 letter to the Sun.136 In 1915, white residents protested the conversion of the white School No. 39 at Carrollton and Riggs Avenues.137

Another improvement in education came as 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.138

Some observers saw the absence of any African American members of the Baltimore City School Board as a barrier to addressing unequal pay and lack of training for teachers and the inadequate school buildings they worked in. In 1919, when the editors of the Baltimore Afro-American Newspaper demanded Charles Koch, the superintendent of schools, hire an African American superintendent, Koch responded that:

Blacks were not far enough developed to have a school board member, but would do well as members of the street cleaning force.139

Advocacy for improved teacher pay also included white allies. For example, in 1920, white representatives of the taxpayers Civic League, Mrs. Edward Shoemaker, and the Interracial Conference, Dr. Peter Ainslie, appeared before the Board of Estimates to urge making the salaries at the Colored High and Training Schools the same as those at white high schools.140

Strayer Survey and colored school reform efforts: 1920s

One important example of the changes that took place in this period was the efforts 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: overcrowding, inadequate facilities, poor curriculum, and out-dated management practices.141 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.”142 Among the recommendations was the suggestion that the schools open all trade and apprenticeship programs to black students.143

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 1923.144 After Russell was denied the resources for the administration of his program, he resigned in August 1924. Angelina Johnson describes the appointment of Russell’s successor:

On August 1, 1925, Francis Marion Wood was appointed supervisor of all African American schools of Baltimore City; he would stay in the position until 1943, overseeing many changes. With a starting salary of $4200 per school year, Wood relocated to Baltimore with his wife Nellie and their four children. Wood’s position included the responsibility for implementing and overseeing the recommendations of the Strayer Report. Supervisor Wood reported to David Weglein, who was Superintendent of Public Instructions and who reported to the nine members of the Board of School Commissioners, the Mayor, and the Baltimore City Council.145

Finally, in June 1925, 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.146 In 1929, superintendent Dr. David E. 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.147

Beginning in 1926, Wood began to attend 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 African Americans. Johnson notes: “Each segregated school was responsible for creating and sponsoring their own Black History program.148

Black schools in Baltimore and Anne Arundel Counties: 1920s

A different process of community development took place for Black residents in more rural areas around the city. In Baltimore County, small Black communities grew up in the late nineteenth century as residents built churches and schools. 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, an colored school house 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 African American schoolhouse in Baltimore County).149 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 built in 1927 in Anne Arundel County.

Black residents in rural Baltimore and Anne Arundel County communities stayed connected to residents in Baltimore City through family networks and regional church organizations. The city and county also shared certain public institutions such as the Industrial Home for Colored Girls located in Melvale. The Afro American regularly reported on happenings in Baltimore and Anne Arundel County.

The inadequate conditions of County school buildings and the injustice of unequal pay for Black teachers was a growing concern 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 trip… overcrowded and unsanitary.”150 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 were required to pay transportation costs and tuition totaling over $150 a year. Fifty students made the trip in 1926 but, in 1927, the county reduced expenses by instituted an examination for Black students that cut the number of eligible students down to just twelve.151 Black parents pushed back immediately with over three hundred participating in a rally held in Towson by the County-Wide Parent-Teacher Association of Baltimore County. Unfortunately, county school officials ignored the escalating protests for years.152

Courts, prisons, and injustice: 1880s–1920s

The administration of criminal justice was deeply unequal for white and Black Baltimoreans in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The exclusion of Black men from juries, the segregated police force, discriminatory approaches to policing in increasingly segregated Black neighborhoods, and the criminalization of behavior for Black residents that was tolerated for white residents all contributed to this issue.

One clear example of this disparity is found in the population of the Baltimore City Jail and Maryland Penitentiary. Black people only made around sixteen percent of the city’s population in 1880 but they made up over thirty percent of the people confined to the City Jail in 1883. 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.

Between 1882 and 1911, white people in Maryland lynched thirty-one African Americans. This was a small part of a national wave of political violence against African Americans. In the case of Wilmington, North Carolina, white residents supported an armed insurrection in 1898 to overturn the local elected government led by Black officials.

Lynchings began to happen less often in 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 1908 riots in Springfield, Illinois, terrorized Baltimoreans. A riot in East St. Louis, Illinois in July 1917 prompted a mass meeting at Bethel A.M.E. Church that sent a delegation (including Dr. Carl J. Murphy) to meet with President Woodrow Wilson and urge him to investigate the riot and take action to address the issue.153

On December 18, 1918, the new local division of UNIA (then led by William D. Rankin) highlighted the terror of lynching with an event at Bethel A.M.E. Church (cosponsored by pastor Rev. William Sampson Brooks) featuring both Marcus Garvey and Barnet.154

Anti-lynching legislation emerged a major issue for local activists in the early twentieth century and remained an important concern up through the 1940s.155 In 1922, NAACP branch president Rev. Monroe Davis joined in a national anti-lyching campaign (described by historian Mark Robert Schneider as “no legalistic top-down campaign, but a sustained battle for public opinion”) and introduced the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill at a mass meeting of two thousand Baltimoreans at Bethel A.M.E. Church.156 Baltimore activists saw their proximity to Washington, DC as an obligation to support national efforts to lobby federal officials over lynching and related issues.157

The physical violence of this period took place concurrently with the local and national resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan. In early 1923, the Klan presented a charity circus in Hazazer’s Hall at 111 W. Franklin Street (the present site of the Enoch Pratt Library Central Branch) to publicize the organization’s endorsement of Protestantism. After the circus, Klan members visited the United Brethren Church and the Roland Avenue Methodist Church at 40th Street and Roland Avenue. The pastor at Roland Avenue accepted a $25 donation from the visitors, remarking, “I, for one, am glad to get it.” Although the Klan stayed active that year, not everybody embraced them. In March 1923, for example, a Klan meeting at the Brooklyn First Baptist Church at 3801 5th Street was “almost broken up by an angry mob.”158

While the majority of lynchings in Maryland took place on the Eastern Shore and in Southern Maryland, Black residents in Baltimore did face an immediate threat of police violence and a broader challenge of criminal injustice. Noted incidents of police violence in this period include a police officer beating a black World War I soldier (an action criticized in February 1918 by Judge Robert F. Stanton who later served as Police Commissioner from 1938 to 1943); the police shooting of a Black man on Pennsylvania Avenue on June 1, 1918; Baltimore police officer James O. Jones “beating up” Henry Boyer in 1926; and a police officer clubbing Henry Simuels in 1927.159 Black residents responded to these incidents with letters of protest, mass meetings, and other forms of organized activism. As a student at the 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 at the Northwestern District Police Station next door. In Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary, Juan Williams quotes Marshall’s recollection of what he heard, writing:

We could hear 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.”160

Black residents in Baltimore experienced the dual challenges of being both over-policed and under-protected as white people who committed crimes against black people could expect much lighter penalties for their actions. Sexual violence against Black women was a particular area of concern. Famed anti-lynching activist and journalist Ida B. Wells cited an example from Baltimore in The Red Record (her early 1890s study of lynchings in the U.S.), describing 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 girls… The case went to the courts and they were acquitted.”161 In July 1907, the Afro American observed what they called an “epidemic of rape perpetrated by white men of this vicinity.” Moreover, the paper concluded “the worst of it is that few of them meet with the punishment they deserve.”162

For example, on February 1, 1921, five hundred 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 after police arrested him for an attempted assault on a ten-year-old black girl named Esther Short. The Afro 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.”163 A 1926 report from the Afro called attention to racism in the use of capital punishment in Maryland. Observing that between 1903 and 1926, nine of the ten men executed in Maryland for murder or rape were black, the newspaper called for an end to the death penalty.164

Activists sought to address these problems through 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.165 Although such efforts were largely unsuccessful in this period, the work by activists led to forcing the city and state to begin to address their concerns in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Black residents in Baltimore and Anne Arundel Counties even greater discrimination before the judicial system than city residents. 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.166 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.” The Afro saw a pattern of discrimination citing two recent examples of Black men convicted of crimes “even though there was genuine doubt among some as to their guilt.”167


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“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 (1893-1988); Baltimore, Md., November 1920, 5.

“RAISE PROTEST OVER POLICE BRUTALITY: Commissioner Gaither Asked to Investigate Unprovoked Clubbing of Henry Simuels.” Afro-American (1893-1988), April 1927.

Roberts Jr., Samuel Kelton. Infectious Fear: Politics, Disease, and the Health Effects of Segregation. Univ of North Carolina Press, 2009.

Roberts, Samuel Kelton. “Infectious Fear: Tuberculosis, Public Health, and the Logic of Race and Illness in Baltimore, Maryland, 18801930.” Ph.D., Princeton University, 2002.

Schiszik, Lauren. “Monumental Lodge No. 3, Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World.” Landmark Designation Report. Baltimore, MD: Baltimore City Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation, June 2013.

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

“SEGREGATION A BOON TO REAL ESTATE SHARPS: Restricted Area Enables Them to Charge Exorbitant Rentals in Good Residential Sections RENTS UP OVER 20 PER CENT. Prices for Houses in Segregated Districts Are Abnormally High.” Afro-American (1893-1988), January 1915.

“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 (1893-1988), January 1924.

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

“Sleeping on Our Rights.” Afro-American (1893-1988); Baltimore, Md., May 1918, 4.

Smith, C. Fraser. Here Lies Jim Crow: Civil Rights in Maryland. JHU Press, 2008.

“Soldiers and the Police.” The Sun (1837-1988), February 1918.

“STICK TO THE FARMS: Ex-Councilman Cummings’s Advice to Colored People at Their Fair.” The Sun (1837-1992); Baltimore, Md., September 1894, 8.

Stockbridge, J. “Russell I. Diggs et Al. Vs. Morgan College,” October 1918.

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

Sun, Reported for the Baltimore. “ABOLITION OF THE BLACK LAWS: Celebration of the Event by the Brotherhood of Liberty at Irving Park.” The Sun (1837-1991); Baltimore, Md., September 1888, 6.

———. “THE INTERMARRIAGE QUESTION: Colored Ministers Agitating for Repeal of Marriage Law Restrictions.” The Sun (1837-1991); Baltimore, Md., February 1887, 6.

“THE COLORED COUNCILMAN: A Pen-Picture of Harry S. Cummings-He Outlines His Public Course.” The Sun (1837-1992); Baltimore, Md., November 1890, 6.

“The Lynching Record.” Afro-American (1893-1988); Baltimore, Md., January 1921, 9.

“The Question of "Patronage.".” Afro-American (1893-1988), September 1898.

“THEIR HOPE IS IN WORK: Harry S. Cummings, Colored, Gives Good Advice to His Race.” The Sun (1837-1992); Baltimore, Md., May 1906, 9.

“THEY MAUL THE AMENDMENT: Negro Women Make Vigorous Attack at Perkins Square Church.” The Sun (1837-1990), October 1905, 12.

Thomas, Bettye C. “Public Education and Black Protest in Baltimore: 1865-1900.” Maryland Historical Magazine 71, no. 3 (n.d.): 381–91.

Thompson, Bruce A. “The Civil Rights Vanguard: The NAACP and the Black Community in Baltimore, 1931-1942.” Ph.D., University of Maryland, College Park, 1996.

“To Bar Negro Women.” Afro-American (1893-1988), January 1912, 4.

“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 (1837-1989), May 1903.

“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 (1837-1989), October 1889.

Walton Jr., Hanes, Sherman Puckett, and Donald R. Deskins Jr. “The Enfranchisement of African American Women, 1669-1921.” In The African American Electorate. SAGE, 2012.

Waring, James H.N. 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.

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

White. “Morgan College and the West End.” The Sun (1837-1988), September 1913.

“White Men as Rapists.” Afro-American (1893-1988); Baltimore, Md., July 1907, 4.

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

Williams, Juan. Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary. Crown Publishing Group, 2011.

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

Wilson, Edward. The History of Morgan State College: A Century of Purpose in Action, 18671967. New York, NY: Vantage Press, 1975.

“Women Will Help to Get Out Voters.” Afro-American (1893-1988), October 1911, 4.

Woodward, C. Vann. The Strange Career of Jim Crow. Oxford University Press, 2001.


  1. Collier-Thomas, “Harvey Johnson and the Baltimore Mutual United Brotherhood of Liberty, 1885-1910,” 222.

  2. Halpin, “Reforming Charm City,” 11.

  3. Brackett, Notes on the Progress of the Colored People of Maryland Since the War., 425–26.

  4. Sun, “ABOLITION OF THE BLACK LAWS.”

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

  6. Hale, Making Whiteness, 21.

  7. Sun, “THE INTERMARRIAGE QUESTION.”; Murray, States’ Laws on Race and Color, 207-208; The Maryland Colonial government previously enacted a ban on interracial marriage in 1664. The 1888 law declared the “miscegenation” as “infmaous crime” with a punishment of eighteen months to ten years in prison. Ministers or pastors marrying an interracial couple would be fined one hundred dollars.

  8. Journalist Henry W. Grady was one of many individuals who helped develop and distribute the ideas of white supremacy through his speaking and writing on the idea of the “new South.”

  9. Nightingale, “The Transnational Contexts of Early Twentieth-Century American Urban Segregation.”, 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.

  10. The publication prompted a response from Rev. Harvey Johnson in published remarks for the Monumental Literary and Scientific Association of Baltimore.

  11. Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns, 40.

  12. “TO CONFEDERATE VALOR.”

  13. Thomas, “Public Education and Black Protest in Baltimore.”, 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.” Hayes also presided over the dedication of the Confederate Soldier’s and Sailors Monument in 1903.

  14. Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow.

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

  16. Thompson, “The Civil Rights Vanguard,” 31.

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

  18. Sullivan, Lift Every Voice, 2.

  19. Halpin, “Reforming Charm City.”, 233-234; 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.

  20. Military service during World War I and the ill-treatment and racist violence experienced by Black veterans after their return to the United States also played a significant role in reshaping Black activism in the 1910s and 1920s.

  21. “MAY "OSTRACIZE" DR DIXON.”; The Sun’s reference to the Constitutional League is likely a misidentification of the National Equal Rights League active nationally in this period.

  22. “"BIRTH OF NATION" HERE.”; “Ford’s – Birth of a Nation.”; Ford’s Theatre was demolished in 1964 for the construction of a parking garage.

  23. “Hate of a Nation.”

  24. Sullivan, Lift Every Voice, 29.

  25. Schneider, "We Return Fighting", 57.

  26. Gaines, “Racial Uplift Ideology in the Era of ‘the Negro Problem’.”

  27. Jackson and Walden, “A History of Provident Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland.”; Bean, “Upholding Black Life and Dignity in the Eleventh Ward.”

  28. “NEGRO EDUCATOR DEAD.”

  29. Bowling and Lindenmeyer, “How Did a Multi-Racial Movement Develop in the YWCA in Baltimore, 1883-1926?”; Schiszik, “Monumental Lodge No. 3, Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World.”

  30. Mjagkij, Organizing Black America, 76.

  31. “MARYLAND’S BACKWARD STEP.”; 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.

  32. Bragg, “Criminality of the Colored Race.”

  33. Bragg, “White People Who Have Reload the Colored Race.”

  34. It is important to recognize that Bragg may have strategically expressed his position in a way he considered appealing to the Sun newspaper’s white readership.

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

  36. 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.

  37. “THE COLORED COUNCILMAN.”

  38. “STICK TO THE FARMS.”

  39. “THEIR HOPE IS IN WORK.”

  40. Pousson, “Harry Sythe Cummings House - the Final Home of Baltimore’s First Black City Councilman.”

  41. Maryland State Archives, “Rev. Dr. Harvey Johnson.”

  42. Johnson, A Plea for Our Work as Colored Baptists, Apart from the Whites.

  43. “Negroes Open Convention.”

  44. “Colored People Organizing for Education.”

  45. Mjagkij, Organizing Black America, 76.

  46. Halpin, “Reforming Charm City,” 94–96, 98–100.

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

  48. Ibid., 3.

  49. Ibid., 28.

  50. “Civil and Not Social Equality.”

  51. Thompson, “The Civil Rights Vanguard,” 32.

  52. “Democrats Steal State.”

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

  54. Alexander, “Letter to the Editor 1 – No Title.”

  55. “THEY MAUL THE AMENDMENT.”; 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.”

  56. Phelps, “Charles J. Bonaparte and Negro Suffrage in Maryland.”

  57. Smith, Here Lies Jim Crow, 65.

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

  59. Greene, “Black Republicans on the Baltimore City Council, 1890-1931.”

  60. Walton Jr., Puckett, and Deskins Jr., “The Enfranchisement of African American Women, 1669-1921,” 424–25.

  61. “APPOSES IGNORANT VOTE.”

  62. Jenifer, “The Forum.”

  63. “Women Will Help to Get Out Voters.”

  64. “To Bar Negro Women.”

  65. “MARYLAND STOOD 4 TO 1.”

  66. “Plan Meeting to Aid Women.”

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

  68. Roberts Jr., Infectious Fear, 73.

  69. Gatewood, Aristocrats of Color, 77.

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

  71. “Northwest Now Center of Baltimore Social Life.”; Examples listed in a 1926 recollection of the area’s notable past residents include Black physicians, Dr. Harry Brown, Dr. Edward J. Wheatley, Dr. Fowler, and Dr. Nelson Moquette, which could suggest the professional or class status of the Black Baltimoreans who led the move into northwest Baltimore.

  72. Mamiya, “A Social History of the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Baltimore.”

  73. “B. & O. SAID TO BE BUYER.”

  74. “HOUSES RAZED IN NIGHT.”

  75. “SEGREGATION A BOON TO REAL ESTATE SHARPS.”

  76. “Bethel A. M. E. Church Enters New Home Under Auspicious Circumstances.”

  77. St. James Episcopal moved west again in 1932 to occupy the former Church of the Ascension at W. Lafayette and N. Arlington Avenues.

  78. “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.

  79. Halpin, “‘The Struggle for Land and Liberty’ Segregation, Violence, and African American Resistance in Baltimore, 1898-1918.”

  80. “COLORED FAMILY SCARED.”

  81. “NEGRO DOMINATION.”

  82. “COLORED FAMILY UNWELCOME.”

  83. “NEGRO HOMES STONED”; “5 INJURED IN A NEAR-RIOT.”

  84. Power, “Apartheid Baltimore Style”; Nightingale, “The Transnational Contexts of Early Twentieth-Century American Urban Segregation”; Roberts Jr., Infectious Fear; Boger, “The Meaning of Neighborhood in the Modern City Baltimore’s Residential Segregation Ordinances, 19101913”; Halpin, “Reforming Charm City”; Halpin, “‘The Struggle for Land and Liberty’ Segregation, Violence, and African American Resistance in Baltimore, 1898-1918.”

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

  86. “Baltimore, Md., Ordinance 692.”

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

  88. Doster, “"To Strike for Right, to Strike with Might".”

  89. Glotzer, “Exclusion in Arcadia How Suburban Developers Circulated Ideas About Discrimination, 18901950,” 481.

  90. Ibid., 488.

  91. Ibid., 482–83.

  92. “PLAN TO CHECK NEGRO INVASION IS INAUGURATED.”

  93. “Segregationists Hold Stormy Session.”

  94. “PASMORS ORGANIZE NEW ALLIANCE.”; An earlier Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance organized in 1906 with a meeting at Sharp Street Church and plans for monthly meetings at Grace Presbyterian Church but had evidently dissolved in the interim.

  95. “Inter-Racial Commission on Segregation.”

  96. See Stockbridge, “Russell I. Diggs et Al. Vs. Morgan College.”; For more on the history of Morgan State University, see Wilson, The History of Morgan State College; See also Dula, “Prospering Because That’s Its History.”

  97. McConnell, The History of Morgan Park.

  98. Cumberbatch, “Baltimore, Maryland,” 18.

  99. Brown argued that narrow street widths and uneven street grids were detrimental to the city’s development.

  100. Holcomb, “Somerset Court (B-5136)”; Halpin, “Reforming Charm City”; Roberts, “Infectious Fear”; Lieb, “‘We Clean-up, Paint-up, and Fix-up Our Neighborhoods’.”

  101. The project, a signature achievement of Demoratic Mayor James Preston, is addressed in greater detail in our case study on Preston Gardens.

  102. Wilson, “Druid Hill Branch, YMCA,” 138.

  103. “HOMES OF COLORED PERSONS.”

  104. Roberts, “Infectious Fear,” 131–32; Waring, Work of the Colored Law and Order League, Baltimore, Md.

  105. Christian religious beliefs also played a significant role in motivating their advocacy efforts.

  106. Bowling and Lindenmeyer, “How Did a Multi-Racial Movement Develop in the YWCA in Baltimore, 1883-1926?”

  107. Neverdon-Morton, “Black Housing Patterns in Baltimore City, 1885-1953,” 219.

  108. Jamison, “Leading from Behind,” 83.

  109. Gordon and Collier-Thomas, African American Women and the Vote, 1837-1965, 124.

  110. Jamison, “Leading from Behind,” 44.

  111. Ibid., 41.

  112. Ibid., 5.

  113. Ibid., 6.

  114. Ibid., 80.

  115. “MEETING OF CLUBWOMEN.”

  116. “TRYING THE COLOR LINE.”

  117. “The Question of "Patronage.".”

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

  119. Skotnes, A New Deal for All?, 55.

  120. Pearson, “The National Urban League Comes to Baltimore,” 523.

  121. Ibid., 524.

  122. Ibid., 529.

  123. Ibid., 532.

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

  125. Nightingale, “The Transnational Contexts of Early Twentieth-Century American Urban Segregation,” 671.

  126. “Against Jim Crow in Druid Hill Park.”

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

  128. Johnson, “The Strayer Survey and the Colored Schools of Baltimore City, 19231943,” 12.

  129. Graham, Baltimore, 222.

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

  131. Ibid., 387–89.

  132. Johnson, “The Strayer Survey and the Colored Schools of Baltimore City, 19231943,” 13–14.

  133. Ibid., 13.

  134. Ibid., 15.

  135. Roberts, “Infectious Fear,” 28.

  136. White, “Morgan College and the West End.”

  137. “PROTEST NEGRO SCHOOL.”

  138. Johnson, “The Strayer Survey and the Colored Schools of Baltimore City, 19231943,” 18.

  139. Farrar, The Baltimore Afro-American, 1892-1950, 36.

  140. “Quesion Is up Again.”

  141. Johnson, “The Strayer Survey and the Colored Schools of Baltimore City, 19231943,” 23.

  142. Ibid., 36.

  143. Ibid., 34.

  144. Ibid., 37.

  145. Ibid., 40.

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

  147. “Baltimore-Maryland.”

  148. Johnson, “The Strayer Survey and the Colored Schools of Baltimore City, 19231943,” 47.

  149. E.H.T. Traceries, “African American Historic Survey Districts - Baltimore County.”

  150. “Civic League Condemns Catonsville School.”

  151. “ONLY 12 BALTO. COUNTY PUPILS TO ENTER HIGH.”

  152. “ENTER WHITE HIGH SCHOOLS SAYS PASTOR”; Ayers, “An Open Letter.”

  153. Farrar, The Baltimore Afro-American, 1892-1950, 125.

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

  155. 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”.

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

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

  158. Jackson, The Ku Klux Klan in the City, 1915-1930, 181.

  159. “Soldiers and the Police”; “Penna. Ave. Shooting Causes Comment”; “BRUTALITY OF POLICEMAN IS FLAYED HERE”; “RAISE PROTEST OVER POLICE BRUTALITY.”

  160. Williams, Thurgood Marshall, 40.

  161. Wells-Barnett, The Red Record.

  162. “White Men as Rapists.”

  163. “MASS MEETING OF 500 URGES PUNISHMENT OF INSURANCE COLLECTOR.”

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

  165. Ibid., 112.

  166. “Friday, May 3, 1918.”; The report added “As for petty juries, even Baltimore has been very lax for the past several years.”

  167. “The Lynching Record.”