Growing Business From 'Roots' CARROLL COUNTY

April 23, 1993

Tourism, a field that has always relied on our fascination with history, is increasingly tapping into a desire to better understand our respective heritages. Witness the success of Ellis Island since that immigration landmark was refurbished in 1990, as well as the interest in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, opening to the public next week on the Mall in Washington.

With that in mind, what a great idea it was for Maryland economic development and cultural officials to devise an African-American tourism strategy for the state. Beginning this season, Maryland has been promoting itself as a critical juncture in the history of black Americans. It isn't a shallow claim.

From Mathias de Sousa, an indentured servant among the first settlers on The Ark who later became the first black member of the state assembly, to Kunta Kinte, Alex Haley's great-great-great-great grandfather, who landed at Annapolis harbor on a slave ship; from freedom fighters Benjamin Banneker, Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman to polar explorer Matthew Henson and ragtime great Eubie Blake, the state boasts a formidable roster of heroes in African-American culture. As a border state that tolerated slavery, and served as a stop on the underground railroad, Maryland also holds immense importance in understanding the events that precipitated the Civil War.

Among the attractions highlighted to tour groups are the Civil War sights not far from Carroll County. Most notable are the Antietam National Battlefield, site of the bloody Union victory in 1862 that paved the way for President Lincoln to deliver the Emancipation Proclamation, and the Kennedy Farmhouse near Hagerstown, where abolitionist John Brown and his comrades planned their failed raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, W. Va., in 1859.

This initiative makes sense, not just because Maryland has something to offer, but because it has someone to offer it to. The Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions have some of the nation's greatest concentrations of black families with disposable income, who might be attracted to such appeals.

Before marketers can gain business from black consumers, however, they must win their respect. Maryland officials should be applauded for working to do just that.

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