Annapolis to honor activist Blackshear

Force behind Kinte-Haley foundation will be remembered with memorial plaque


This summer, the city of Annapolis will name the walkway along the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley memorial after Leonard A. Blackshear, the activist who envisioned and helped bring the memorial to downtown Annapolis.

Mayor Ellen O. Moyer proposed the tribute, and the city council unanimously approved the resolution last week. The walkway along the story wall - which features inspirational plaques - will bear Blackshear's name. It is a fitting honor, Moyer said.

"This is a way of acknowledging a contribution that he made to all of us," she said. "The plaques were Leonard's design and inspiration, and it's appropriate to have him acknowledged where the `value wall' is."

Blackshear, who was 62 when he died of cancer March 24, founded the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Foundation in 1992. He raised $750,000 from private and government sources to erect a statue of Haley, the author of Roots, whose ancestor Kunta Kinte is believed to have arrived in Annapolis in 1767 before being sold into slavery.

Blackshear thought of Annapolis as an Ellis Island for black Americans. The "value wall," or story wall, is a series of 10 plaques inscribed with themes taken from Roots. Judith Cabral, program director for the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Foundation, said Blackshear followed the principles detailed along the story wall, especially perseverance.

"Leonard would never give up on anything that he felt had merit and value for the community," she said. "Leonard could not have a better place in all of Annapolis to have something named after him. The story wall and the walkway that runs in front had very deep meaning for him."

One of the plaques reads, "Things don't ever get better unless you make them better."

To that end, Blackshear organized in September 2004 a slavery reconciliation walk aimed at easing racial strife. Blacks and whites walked through Annapolis, and blacks symbolically forgave whites for the sins of slavery. The march culminated with descendants of Kunta Kinte and the family that sold him embracing.

Blackshear, who was born in Georgia and raised in Queens, N.Y., worked alongside Malcolm X in Harlem. He served in the Air Force, and earned a bachelor's degree in physics in 1970.

He moved to the Riva Woods section of Annapolis in 1972 with his wife, Patsy Baker Blackshear. He owned a telecommunications business, Telesonic, that helped people with hearing impairments see words and song lyrics that are broadcast over the radio.

In his private life, he was an active Rotarian and humanitarian, helping to send 2 million books to children as part of the Books for Good Will program.

Design plans for the memorial plaque are under way.

"We're very pleased that this is going to happen," Cabral said. "I am just delighted that the city of Annapolis would think to do this and honor him in this way."

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