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The secret history of city slave trade

Blacks and whites alike of modern-day Baltimore have ignored the story of the jails that played a key role in the U.S. slave trade of the 1800s.

June 20, 1999|By SCOTT SHANE

Rogers' mother was particularly distraught, the flier said, because she had lost another daughter in the same manner four years earlier, "of whom she has never since heard." Rogers' stepfather, a free man, had offered to bind himself to service to work off the $850 necessary to buy her freedom. But the slave trader was unwilling to wait, so the preacher, identified as S. Guiteau, was trying to raise the necessary sum.

"Let mothers and daughters imagine the case their own," Guiteau wrote, "and they cannot but act with promptness."

Reopening old wounds

Why have such spellbinding stories so rarely been told? Callum, the Baltimore genealogist, attributes it to the reluctance of both races to reopen the wound left by slavery.

"White people naturally don't want anyone to know their ancestors owned slaves," Callum says. But black people, too, have kept silent, she says. Callum's maternal grandfather was born into slavery, but when the subject arose, the old man would declare, "No man owned me!"

"His voice was so full of emotion, a hush would fall over the room," Callum recalls, sitting in her North Baltimore rowhouse surrounded by the tools of the genealogical trade.

"Some black people still feel that way today, six generations later," she says. "But we cannot let people forget our holocaust, the black holocaust of slavery."

Scott Shane is a reporter for The Sun.

Pub Date: 06/20/99

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