Black history museum would enhance BaltimoreI want to add...


April 17, 1999

Black history museum would enhance Baltimore

I want to add my voice to the growing list of Marylanders who are thrilled that our state and city are going forward with plans to open another cornerstone museum of local and American history, the proposed Maryland African-American history museum. To be located on "museum row" at Pratt and President streets -- perhaps adjacent to a revitalized City Life Museums complex -- this museum would help anchor a heritage district that could better acquaint us with our divergent but intertwined American histories.

African-American history has long been among the most neglected aspects of our story, even though it is inextricably bound with the story of America and the United States. Baltimore should take a leading role in correcting this, in part because this city and its people have long played a leading role in African-American history.

Frederick Douglass, America's foremost abolitionist and 19th Century civil rights leader was born a slave on the Eastern Shore and later brought to Baltimore. Later he escaped to the north, where his writing and oratory reminded white Americans of the evils of slavery and challenged them to oppose it.

Marylander Harriet Tubman led hundreds of slaves out of bondage on an "Underground Railroad" system that passed through Baltimore and Maryland. After escaping slavery herself, she returned south and risked recapture no less than 19 times to lead others to freedom.

Thurgood Marshall owed much of the temperament that enabled him to become America's foremost 20th Century legal champion of civil rights to his upbringing in the long-standing black middle-class that flourished in multi-ethnic Baltimore.

Before the Civil War, Baltimore had the largest free black population of any United States city. Despite the hardships and stigma of the surrounding slave system, black artisans, professionals, shopkeepers, skilled and other industrial laborers, and a strong leadership class were an important part of the burgeoning commercial and industrial center that Baltimore became in the 19th Century.

After the Civil War, though dispirited by the displacement of highly skilled black shipbuilding artisans in Baltimore's waterfront commercial district (Fells Point was a major shipbuilding center and port, and drew waves of European immigrants whose race often gave them employment priority), African-American businessman, ship caulker, labor leader, and publisher Isaac Myers led a group of black businessmen and shipbuilding tradesmen in purchasing the Chesapeake Marine Railway and Drydock Company.

For years it was one of Fells Point's largest, most competitive shipyards, enabling Myers to pay off the mortgage in three years and employ several hundred skilled and semi-skilled shipbuilding tradesmen. The Living Classrooms Foundation is planning a museum and drydock at this site, "The Frederick Douglass/Isaac Myers Park and Marine Railway," that will feature a replica of Baltimore's turn-of-the-century commercial waterfront.

Long the City Life Museum's headquarters building, the Peale Museum building's own history exemplifies our multi-faceted history. It was the first American structure built specifically to be a museum.

Later it served as Baltimore's City Hall, then as Baltimore's first public school for African-Americans. More recently, it anchored for several years the City Life Museums complex, and, until its closing in 1997, housed the permanent rowhouse exhibit that detailed 200 years of building and life in Baltimore's signature residential neighborhoods.

Baltimore's status as a key crossroads of American and Maryland history cries out for a full panoply of history museums that people from near and far can visit to enjoy and learn from our story. This would help us to better appreciate what it has meant to be a Baltimorean, and what we want it to mean in the future.

M. Mark Hunsberger, Baltimore

Review was wrong on facts

I'm writing to respond to Joan Mellen's March 14 review of my book, "False Witness: The Real Story of Jim Garrison's Investigation and Oliver Stone's Film JFK." I'd like to address some of the review's misrepresentations.

Most of my sources are not "unidentified," as Ms. Mellen claimed; my book contains 42 pages of notes identifying them. They are not "primarily" Clay Shaw's attorneys; indeed, they include six key individuals from Jim Garrison's own camp. As for my alleged overuse of the word "fraud," in discussing Garrison, it's impossible to use the word too often.

Ms. Mellen's cites Dean Andrews' statements, but Mr. Andrews repeatedly admitted he invented the "Clay Bertrand" story. FBI Agent Regis Kennedy was not "looking for Clay Bertrand" before Dean Andrews invented that story. The Department of Justice's statement about "Bertrand" was a mistake, and it publicly retracted the statement.

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