Celebrating diversity in Towson First African-American festival: Event signals new era in Baltimore County.

September 17, 1997

COME SATURDAY, Baltimore County will play host to its first African-American festival in more than 100 years. While many ethnic festivals recall and celebrate old ways, this one promises something that may be more important.

It signals a shift in the identity of Baltimore County's growing black community, a strong new presence. It says, ''We want to know ourselves better, and we want the white community to know us. We no longer sit on the sidelines of county life.'' The festival site is significant: in Towson's courthouse plaza -- the county seat, the heart of the establishment.

This is not being billed as an event for black Baltimore countians. Rather, it is an event for Baltimore countians -- indeed, organizers say, for people of all races from across the state. It will be fun, with plenty of food and music. But the event has a serious mission, too. This festival seeks to foster unity, to shatter stereotypes with education and accurate history.

Local history enthusiasts will find rich fare. Organizers plan to highlight 40 historic black communities, some as old as 300 years. Hundreds of photos, old books, newspaper articles and other artifacts will be on display.

Visitors to the festival are likely to learn that Baltimore County's // racial history is no more turbulent than those of most white, rural places in the mid-Atlantic. Slavery was practiced here when it was economically advantageous. Blacks constituted a small minority of the population and lived for the most part in scattered enclaves, shut out from an establishment they are cracking only now.

But life was not all misery and mistreatment. In 1834, slaves on Bond Avenue in Reisterstown were allowed to worship in church. Free blacks built successful lives for themselves during the slave era. Black soldiers served honorably. Businessmen and civic leaders built thriving communities. People worked hard to survive, and harder to flourish.

Let us not waste this opportunity to better understand each other and our shared history.

Pub Date: 9/17/97

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