Rediscovering Black Annapolis

September 07, 1995

The controversy surrounding a new guide to Annapolis' historic black neighborhoods is quite understandable. There is a dispute over the emphasis placed on certain sights at the cost of others. The Banneker-Douglass Museum, one of Maryland's main repositories of African-American culture, is particularly incensed because it feels it did not get proper attention.

Not too much should be made of this. If there is a problem, it can be corrected in later printings of the "African American Heritage in Annapolis." The important thing is that the capital city has published this guide, which highlights important buildings that visitors might otherwise miss.

"We have so much that focuses on the more well-known features of the historic district we hoped people would use this as a way to learn more about the African-American community," said Donna C. Hole, a city planner who authored the pamphlet.

Her point is particularly valid because cities and neighborhoods are living organisms that change with time. Unless visitors have the proper historical perspective, they may get the wrong impression about what they are seeing.

Many of the picturesque residential streets in the Annapolis historic district underscore this fact. They may contain pricey show houses today, but were inhabited by poor, black families just a few decades ago. This kind of racial change and gentrification is not limited to Annapolis, either. Washington's Georgetown was a largely black neighborhood until the mid-1930s, when its affordability was discovered by young, white New Deal bureaucrats joining the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

"African American Heritage in Annapolis" provides a wealth of information gleaned from 19th century census records, land deeds, insurance maps and newspaper articles. The free brochure is available at city offices and tourist sites.

Anne Arundel County has experienced a growing interest in African-American local history. Philip L. Brown's "The Other Annapolis," a pictorial chronicle of the state capital between 1900 and 1950, is one indicator; the gathering of memorabilia in Highland Beach, which was founded a century ago by a son of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, is another. The efforts in Annapolis continue this overdue trend.

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