Walk to shed light on slavery

Three-hour event scheduled Monday along city's waterfront

October 28, 2000|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

Several hundred people are expected to gather along Baltimore's waterfront Monday, not for revelry but for remembrance.

A three-hour walk is planned from Camden Yards through the Inner Harbor to Fells Point - a major route along which thousands of slaves were marched in the early 1800s before being shipped to the South.

Billed as "Present Hope for Healing the Past: A Walk Through Baltimore's Racial History," the trek along the "trail of tears" is designed to highlight an often-neglected aspect of the city's annals.

"The true history of slavery in Baltimore has been hidden. People don't talk about it," said Marlyn O'Mansky, chairwoman of the event put together by the nonprofit Interfaith Action for Racial Justice.

"To move forward, to look to the future, you have to look to the past," she said.

The walk will begin at 10 a.m. at Camden Yards, where a replica of the pen used to hold slaves will be constructed. It is scheduled to end about three hours later at Broadway Square in Fells Point with a mock slave auction, near where slaves boarded ships bound for New Orleans and other Southern ports.

Along Pratt Street to the Inner Harbor, and down President Street to Fells Point, there will be events, from storytelling to the singing of spirituals.

The walk, the first to highlight the city's slave trade, will be preceded by an invitation-only breakfast for business and community leaders.

As many as 20,000 slaves were shipped out of Baltimore to Southern ports from the early 1800s until about 1860, said Ralph Clayton, a librarian at the Enoch Pratt Free Library who is researching a book on the city's slave trade and served as a volunteer adviser for the walk.

They were part of the domestic slave trade that thrived between the time the United States banned the importation of slaves in 1808 and the Civil War, a period when demand for slaves slackened in Maryland and Virginia but grew in the Deep South, said Clayton.

One slave pen stood at the site of the Babe Ruth statue at Camden Yards, he added.

"We need a monument or two to the memory of those who have suffered during this holocaust, if you will," said Clayton, who has written extensively on black Baltimore before the Civil War.

City Council President Sheila Dixon, one of six honorary co-leaders of the walk, said greater awareness of the slave trade's existence could help affirm the continued need for affirmative action and minority contracting and improve self-knowledge among African-Americans.

"When you don't make people aware of their history, they have a difficult time knowing who they are," she said.

Organizers expect about 600 area schoolchildren to participate in the walk, along with several hundred adults.

The cost of putting on the walk is $15,000, covered by cash and in-kind contributions from corporate and nonprofit sponsors, said John Springer, executive director of Interfaith Action for Racial Justice. They include the Annie E. Casey Foundation, The Baltimore Sun, Claymore Sieck Co., Constellation Energy Group, Kelly & Associates Insurance Group and the Pennock Co.

Interfaith Action, founded in 1979 as Baltimore Clergy and Laity Concerned, seeks to end racism and ethnic prejudice by promoting understanding and tolerance.

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