A showcase of history and culture

Balto. County festival celebrates black heritage

September 22, 2002|By Linda Linley | Linda Linley,SUN STAFF

The festival was billed as a family affair and by any measure, Louis S. Diggs' exhibit embraced the theme.

About 6,000 family photographs depicting life throughout the 20th century in some of Baltimore County's 40 historic African-American communities were mounted on heavy tri-fold cardboard and lined up on tables inside the Maryland National Guard Armory in Towson.

Collected by Diggs, an author and historian, the photographs were culled from residents when Diggs began writing the first of five books detailing the histories of some of the county's black communities.

"We are documenting history here," Diggs said yesterday as he unfolded tables inside the armory to display more artifacts and books, these from African-American inventors, the Negro baseball leagues, Tuskegee Airmen and blacks from the Chesapeake Bay area.

The exhibits showcased history, culture, music, art and education at the 6th annual Baltimore County African-American Cultural Festival in Towson as a celebration of the contributions that blacks have made to the county and to the state.

More than 45,000 people attended the free festival yesterday, which featured a bus tour of the historic black communities surrounding Towson, vendors with African-American art and crafts, performances by gospel singers and the O'Jays, information booths and a children's entertainment stage.

Festival founder Adrienne A. Jones called the event a family affair. Jones, who grew up in Cowdensville, a 200-year-old African-American community near Arbutus, said the festival highlights the rich history and culture of these communities.

Cory Buie of Randallstown said she comes to the festival every year for the cultural enrichment and because it is a day for the family to enjoy.

"Every year, they have something for the children," Buie said. This year, entertainment included face painting and a moonwalk.

A new addition to the festival was an appearance by five members of the East Coast Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen Inc., from Washington.

"Nobody knows how many of the Tuskegee Airmen are left, because different ones pop up from time to time," said George A. Henry Jr., a retired Air Force colonel and a member of the organization whose famous World War II African-American pilots helped to integrate the military.

Henry and his fellow airmen were there to share the history of the organization with festivalgoers and to recount stories about the airmen.

Former Negro League baseball pitcher Ernest Burke of Pikesville, who played for the old Baltimore Elite (pronounced e-light) Giants from 1946 to 1949, displayed memorabilia from the days when African-Americans played in segregated leagues.

Burke also gives lectures at schools and colleges about the prejudice he encountered during and after his days playing baseball.

Jones has seen the festival grow every year.

"The first year, we had about 20,000 and this year we had 45,000 to 50,000 people," Jones said. "This is a way of preserving the past and investing in the future."

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