Historical synergy

November 09, 2003

THERE IS NO BETTER introduction to the Enoch Pratt Central Library's splendid new annex than its premiere exhibit, "Maryland's First Black Lawyers: 1877-1977."

The photo exhibit, which opened Thursday - just days after the annex itself - touches on a number of turning points in Baltimore's modern history. They include the election of the first black City Council member (lawyer Harry S. Cummings, in 1890), the imposition of harsh Jim Crow measures (1910), and the rising civil rights activism (1930s through 1960s) that helped end segregation.

If a need arises for additional information - and questions are bound to crop up - the library's new African-American Collection is just a few steps away, ready to assist. The Maryland department, too, is close by, with many irreplaceable reference materials now housed in open shelves for the first time.

After the Maryland Historical Society reopens Nov. 16 at Monument Street and Park Avenue, much of this state's recorded history will be housed within a two-block area in downtown Baltimore.

The historical society's $30 million expansion shows the 160-year-old institution's collections - from the Peale canvases to genealogical research materials - to their best advantage.

The campus has been imaginatively reconfigured. The main entrance now is through an inviting glass pavilion on Park Avenue, connecting the various exhibit buildings and permitting a logical progression from an overview of Maryland history to galleries containing silver, textiles and furniture.

The result is quite astonishing: The Maryland Historical Society looks and feels like a brand-new museum.

The expansions of the public library and the historical society are worth celebrating because they add to the critical mass in historic Mount Vernon. Combined with the recent renovations at the Walters Art Museum and construction under way at the Peabody Conservatory, they are strengthening Baltimore's cultural heart.

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