Selling 'roots' African-American tours show potential in 'heritage tourism.'

August 28, 1996

HERE'S A new buzz word for the '90s: heritage tourism. The state government recognizes that one way to draw visitors to Maryland is to showcase the legacy of various ethnic groups, and localities are getting into the act as well.

Annapolis is in the forefront of this trend. Last year, a guide booklet, "The African American Heritage in Annapolis," was published. This spawned walking tours of the 300-year-old city by the Historic Annapolis Foundation with a special emphasis on black landmarks. Early experience shows that these efforts are drawing visitors to the state capital who never before had an interest in its past.

The walking tour starts at City Dock, where a bronze plaque commemorates the site where Kunta Kinte, an antecedent of "Roots" author Alex Haley, was brought to Annapolis in chains from West Africa. It goes on to other historic sites that range from the Duke of Gloucester Street home of William Butler, who became the first black alderman, to the former residence of Dr. William Bishop, who amassed a real estate empire big enough to make him one of the wealthiest residents of any race in Annapolis.

Among other points of interest on the tour is the Banneker-Douglass Museum in the old Mount Moriah African Methodist Episcopal Church, which was built in 1874 and saved from demolition in the 1970s. (Tour cassettes and earphones are available for $5 at the Historic Annapolis Foundation's Welcome Center and Museum, 77 Main St.)

Although some purists have suspected that Mr. Haley's description of Kunta Kinte is mainly fiction based on history, it is proper to use him as the starting point. After all, his book about his ancestors and the subsequent television mini-series in the 1970s were responsible for a keen interest among all ethnic groups in exploring their family trees. Like the earlier "Black Book," in which Toni Morrison developed what she thought could serve as a common-experience historical scrapbook for all African-Americans, Mr. Haley's volume developed a framework that could be used by all families.

Heritage tourism is a growth industry, which is estimated to generate $40 billion a year. In Maryland, Annapolis is on the cutting edge in developing tours for African-Americans.

Pub Date: 8/28/96

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