Baltimore’s history is more than bricks and mortar…it’s mostly about people! Just as much as our harbor and our great neighborhoods, Baltimore’s longstanding businesses are a central part of what makes our city unique. Baltimore Heritage’s Legacy Business Program highlights the city’s businesses that have survived for over 100 years and are still going today. Thank you to our volunteer, Richard Messick, for his research and writing about Baltimore’s historic businesses.
When John H. Murphy, Sr. purchased the Afro-American Newspaper in 1897, the idea of sending a poet to cover a civil war in Spain was probably far from his mind, especially a poet as distinguished as Langston Hughes. His paper, after all, had a humble beginning. The Afro, which recently celebrated its 130th anniversary, was founded in 1892 as a church newsletter. It changed hands a few times before being purchased by Mr. Murphy in 1897. He then took this small church paper and expanded the operation to over 100 employees before his death in 1922. His son, Carl Murphy, followed his father as chairman and expanded the operation even further, increasing the circulation to 235,000 by 1945.
It was Carl Murphy who made the decision to hire Hughes to cover the Spanish Civil War in 1937. Though an unusual choice, it was not a singular one. Mr. Hughes joined a rarified group of literary writers who reported on various conflicts, Stephen Crane and Ernest Hemingway among them. The editor-publisher, Carl Murphy, had commissioned Hughes to report on the experience of “colored sympathizers from many lands” who fought on both sides of Spain’s Civil War. He wrote about people who wanted to fight for democracy against fascism. He also wrote about the “Moors” (Muslims from North Africa and Spain) who were used “as canon fodder for Franco.” This was one of the missions of the newspaper after all–to report on the lives of the ordinary “colored” person.
Another aspect of the paper’s mission has been to give fuller accounts of stories that historically the mainstream press has missed. The Afro was one of innumerable newspapers that covered two lynchings on the Eastern Shore of Maryland–Matthew Williams in 1931 and George Armwood in 1933. Their account of the treatment of Williams, for instance, was taken from a light-skinned, African-American who was able to blend into the white crowd and witness the events. This witness reported that Williams was thrown out of the window of a hospital where he was being treated and dragged to the courthouse where he was lynched. Whereas the Baltimore Sun’s account stated that Williams was “taken quietly” from the hospital and “escorted” to the courthouse square. The Sun published an editorial in 2018 apologizing for its woeful shortcomings in the reporting of these two lynchings in Maryland.
Innovative reporting and filling in the details of the lives of their readers are only two of the legacies of The AFRO. Today the 4th and 5th generations of the founder’s family continue to run an operation with offices in Baltimore and Washington, DC.
Last week, Baltimore Heritage had its annual Preservation Celebration and we are delighted we could once again gather in person! We handed out 14 awards to groups and individuals doing fabulous work celebrating and preserving our city’s history and buildings. We gave out 6 micro-grants to 6 very worthy community projects. We conducted our organization’s annual meeting and welcomed a few new board members. And we said a big thank you to our wonderful volunteers. They make historic preservation possible in Baltimore. All the while, we ate delicious food from Trinacria and drank wine from Spirits of Mt. Vernon! Thank you to everyone attended.
Sonia Eaddy and Nicole King For tireless advocacy in historic Poppleton
CASA For the restoration of the 1921 Belnord Theater
Lillie Carroll Jackson Civil Rights Museum For developing a Baltimore Civil Rights history school curriculum
Baltimore City Department of General Services and
Carroll Museums, Inc. For the restoration of the interior of the Phoenix Shot Tower
The Peale For the restoration of The Peale
Friends of Patterson Park and
Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks For restoration of the historic superintendent’s house in Patterson Park
Nia Redmond For creating the East Baltimore Historical Library
Meadow Development Group For restoration of The Eleanor at 3400 Auchentoroly Terrace
Jubilee Baltimore For rehabilitation of the Odell’s Building at 19-21 East North Avenue
Bree Jones For advancing equitable renewal in historic West Baltimore
Volunteer of the Year – Richard Messick For enhancing Baltimore’s historic places through years of research, publishing, and tour guiding
Pitch Party Winners
$1000: St. Mark’s Lutheran Church For exterior lighting
$750: Laurel Cemetery Memorial Project For new cemetery signage
$750: Greater Baltimore Urban League For a new history exhibit
$500: Maryland Women’s Heritage Center For a new electronic exhibit
$500: Carroll Museums, Inc. For a new Shot Tower sign
Join us for our Preservation Celebration 2022 at the newly restored and re-opened Peale Museum! On October 13, we’ll honor our 2022 Preservation Award winners and, with your help, give out four microgrants to people working on the front lines in our historic neighborhoods. We’ll say thank you to our volunteers and honor all of their hard work this year. This gathering also acts as Baltimore Heritage’s annual meeting where the board will elect its new members. With food from Baltimore vendors, wine and beer from Maryland suppliers, and complimentary valet service, we hope you will join us for what promises to be a wonderful evening. And we couldn’t be in a better historic place than the newly renovated Peale Museum. We hope you’ll join us on October 13!
This afternoon the city’s historic preservation commission (CHAP) advanced the nomination for Sarah Ann Street in the Poppleton neighborhood of West Baltimore to become a local historic district. The district would include the alley houses in the 1100 block of Sarah Ann Street that have been owned by Black Baltimore families since they were built in the 1870s, as well as two houses on North Carrollton Street that also have rich histories. The next step for the nomination is for the preservation commission to conduct further research and solicit additional input from the public before holding a second and final hearing this fall.
We at Baltimore Heritage first got involved in the effort to save these historic houses from being demolished back in 2004. We joined neighborhood residents, including homeowner Sonia Eaddy and her family who still live there and are still active advocating for their homes, along with retired judge Tom Ward who worked for decades preserving historic places in West Baltimore. The city’s recent willingness to create a new historic district and preserve the houses comes after years of uncertainty. It also comes after new allies joined the fight, including Dr. Nicole King and her students from the University of Maryland Baltimore County.
If you would like to have your voice heard on this issue, you can email comments to the preservation commission’s executive director, Eric Holcomb: email@example.com. And check back here for additional information as the Sarah Ann Street historic district proposal advances.