Baltimore County to stage black festival Sept. 20 African-American event last held in 1894

September 11, 1997|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

It's been more than a century since Baltimore County last played host to an African-American festival, and "we have an awful lot of stories to tell," said local black historian Louis Diggs.

Yesterday, he and about 100 other organizers joined county officials, boosters and corporate sponsors at Courtney's Place restaurant in Randallstown to unveil details of the African-American Cultural Festival set for Sept. 20 in Towson's courthouse plaza.

"There's a growing African-American community in the county, but people don't know much about it," said Adrienne Jones, director of the county's Office of Fair Practices. "We want the white community to see another side of the black community."

The county's black population is nearing 15 percent, up from about 3 percent in 1970, and is expected to reach nearly 25 percent by 2005.

But the last African-American festival took place in September 1894 in Timonium, said Diggs, a Catonsville retiree who has written two books about historic black communities in the county.

"People from the city never heard of these communities," he said of the nearly 40 historic black enclaves in the county.

Last summer, Jones and colleagues Kevin Connor and Richard Lee came up with the idea of

a festival after an observer asked her why the county's relatively small Hispanic community has a festival each year while the much larger black community did not.

They met with Harold D. Williams, a Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. official, and state Sen. Delores G. Kelley, a west county Democrat and the county's first black state senator. County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger also gave his approval to the festival. A long list of corporations, including Radio One, Otis Warren Real Estate, Giant Food Inc., Siemens and Home Depot, have signed on as sponsors, contributing most of the $20,000 raised for the event.

Singer Harold Melvin's Blue Notes are the featured entertainers, along with gospel groups and other attractions, including Buffalo Soldier re-enactors and storytellers dressed in historic garb. The alcohol-free event will feature crafts and food booths.

County schools and colleges will be represented, from Woodlawn High's jazz band and dancers from Winand Elementary School to Towson University, Coppin State College and Morgan State University.

Williams said money raised through booth rentals would go to create three scholarships, to help preserve historic buildings and sites in the county's African-American community, and for new youth programs teaching art, science and entrepreneurial business skills.

A high-profile celebration of the county's African-American heritage is overdue, said Diggs, who noted that when he taught as a substitute recently in county high schools, he realized, "These kids don't know anything about their heritage."

He is looking forward to showing off his books and 800 photographs of the county's historic black communities, including neighborhoods along Winters Lane in Catonsville, along Bond Avenue in Reisterstown and Piney Grove in Boring.

An old copy of a defunct newspaper called the Maryland Journal he found as part of his research revealed a short item about the 1894 festival for "colored people," he said.

It was held by the Baltimore County Industrial Association, and featured "biscuits, rolls, cakes, patchwork quilts, and cattle," according to the story.

This year's festival organizers hope to expand that concept.

Pub Date: 9/11/97

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