Keeping past for posterity

February 17, 2000

Q: What part of Baltimore's African-American history is in most need of preservation?

Oldest cemetery

George W. Della, Democratic state senator, 47th District:

The one place that everyone ought to be ashamed about is Mount Auburn Cemetery on Annapolis Road in Mt. Winans. It's the oldest black cemetery in the city [founded in 1872] and it's a mess. It was originally known as the "City of the Dead for Colored People" and runaway slaves and the first black bishops of the African Methodist Church are buried there. It's so sad to ride by there. In the summertime, you can see where someone has cut a path through the brush with a lawnmower to get to a family plot, and everything else is waist high.

Marshall's legacy

Juan Williams, author, "Thurgood Marshall, American Revolutionary" (Random House, 1998):

There are several things related to Marshall that I would absolutely preserve. One is the house he grew up in, that's 1632 Division St. I think there's a plaque on it, but that's all. The house that became the family home around 1924, where he lived with his grandparents, is 1838 Druid Hill Ave. When I saw it, it was boarded up -- an absolutely neglected site in Baltimore history. The first place Marshall worked in Baltimore was the Phoenix Building at 4 Redwood St. [between a dry cleaner and a hair salon]. It was home to all the black Baltimore lawyers in the early 20th century.

Wax museum

Elmer P. Martin, co-founder, Great Blacks in Wax Museum, North Avenue and Bond Street:

I'm still trying to preserve this museum, trying to get the city fathers and state officials to recognize the importance of an institution off the beaten tourist path. We want to expand -- and show youngsters that black people can do great things. To teach them their own history and let them see our neighborhoods don't have to be plagued by drugs and crime.

Lost theaters

Walt Rohoblt, retired movie projectionist who worked in most of Baltimore's black theaters before integration:

The Royal is down, so you can let that out. And all the other theaters that were black are gone. Nothing left on Pennsylvania or North Avenue. The Morgan, the Lennox and the Regent -- all gone. Everything that meant anything [to blacks] in those days is gone.

Black hospitals

Levi Watkins, professor of cardiac surgery, associate dean, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine:

The first thing that comes to mind is the demise of the historically black hospitals. They served an incredible purpose to the disenfranchised. Baltimore's was called Provident. -- I can't imagine that Provident's records were not trashed. Hopefully, they're stored somewhere. In the wake of that, I'd try to be sure that institutions like Hopkins and the University of Maryland are absolutely committed to the poor.

Tenet of nonviolence

George Figgs, local film historian, former owner of the Orpheum Cinema on Thames Street:

Martin Luther King's principle of nonviolence needs to be preserved -- the whole Gandhian thrust that drew me and so many others to him in 1962. Violence in this country is epidemic.

Artifacts

Dennis Fiori, director, Maryland Historical Society: People forget that organizations like ours need artifacts of everyday life to tell the full story of any people. -- Something as simple as the bowl and spoon of someone who made their living baking. And we want the stories behind these things. Without the story, its just another bowl.

The spiritual

Norman E. Ross pianist, retired from the Urban Services Cultural Arts program and a founder of the Eubie Blake Museum:

My concern is the preservation of the Negro spiritual. Not gospel music, the spiritual itself. It goes all the way back to the fields -- to the time when the only consolation for Africans being brought to this country was music. African-Americans have not done enough to preserve their own music -- even "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," you don't hear too much anymore.

Jazz genius

Camay Murphy, daughter of Cab Calloway, president of the Eubie Blake Museum, 847 Howard St.:

We're trying to mount an exhibit of six major jazz genuises of Baltimore before the NAACP convention arrives in July. These are people who have been neglected in their own back yard -- Eubie Blake, Cab Calloway, Avon Long, Billie Holiday, Blanche Calloway and Chick Webb. -- These are people who made things happen in music that hadn't happened before. I think people would come from around the world.

Interviews were conducted by Sun reporter Rafael Alvarez.

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