Join Baltimore Heritage & the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture on the evening of February 9 for “Preserving Baltimore’s Civil Rights Heritage,” a panel discussion and public forum from 7:00 to 8:30 PM moderated & hosted by Dr. David Terry, executive director of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum. Our panelists include Dr. Gabriel Tenabe (Morgan State University) on restoring the home of long-time Baltimore NAACP President Lillie Mae Carroll Jackson, Ms. Tanya Bowers (National Trust for Historic Preservation) on the proposed National Civil Rights Heritage Trail, and Mr. Bill Pencek on the adaptive reuse of PS 103. Finally, we’ll hear the story of the Read’s Drug Store sit-in from Dr. Helena Hicks who, as a freshman at Morgan State in 1955, participated in Baltimore’s first successful sit-in protest at Read’s— a building that is currently threatened with demolition by the development of the “Superblock.”
Preserving Baltimore’s Civil Rights Heritage
The Reginald F. Lewis Museum, 830 E. Pratt Street, Baltimore, MD 21202
Wednesday, February 9, 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM Free, RSVP today!
Parking for museum visitors is located across the street at the Dodge PMI Garage at 815 E. Pratt St. $6 validated parking is available. Transit options include MTA Bus 10 via President Street, Charm City Circulator Orange Route Stop 201, & the Shot Tower/Market Place Subway Station.
Last week, Bethel AME Church demolished 1234 Druid Hill Avenue, a rowhouse located just outside Upton’s Marble Hill historic district with strong connections to Baltimore’s Civil Rights movement. The demolition came as a shock to neighborhood activists who had urged city officials to investigate and protect the property when Bethel AME began work on the building in late September.
1234 Druid Hill Avenue is known to a generation of local Civil Rights activists as “Freedom House”—serving as an office to the local chapter of the NAACP, hosting meetings with Clarence Mitchell, Lillie Mae Carroll Jackson, luncheons with Eleanor Roosevelt and even Martin Luther King, Jr. Known as a “mighty little organization,” Freedom House was established by the Baltimore NAACP in 1970 under the leadership of Dr. Lillie M. Jackson. By December 1977, the organization had “received many citations including the AFRO’s highest honor for its successful crusades in reducing unemployment, crime and delinquency.”
Just as importantly, 1234 Druid Hill Avenue had been the home of Harry Sythe Cummings and his family from 1899 to 1911. In 1889, Cummings graduated from the University of Maryland Law School (one of the first two black men to do so) and, in 1890, became the first African American elected to a Baltimore City Council seat.
How did Baltimore lose the Freedom House?
1234 Druid Hill Avenue and its neighbor at 1232 have been owned or controlled by Bethel AME Church for decades. In recent years, the buildings deteriorated significantly and, in July 2015, Baltimore Slumlord Watch highlighted their poor condition. Bethel AME Church responded to these issues by securing a city building permit for both buildings in late September that allowed non-structural alterations and limited demolition (e.g. removing debris, interior drywall, nonbearing walls). Unfortunately, in October the church changed their plans and received approval from the Baltimore Housing Department to demolish 1234 Druid Hill Avenue—without notifying preservation advocates or the local chapter of the NAACP.
It is currently unclear whether the demolition permit for 1234 also applies to 1232. Continuing confusion around the status of the permit for this planned demolition has been a source of frustration for concerned residents. If reports by residents are accurate, Bethel AME Church is planning to continue to demolish 1232 Druid Hill Avenue within the next few days.
What can be done to preserve Baltimore’s Civil Rights heritage?
The destruction of the Freedom House on Druid Hill Avenue is a shocking wake-up call for anyone concerned about the preservation of Baltimore’s Civil Rights heritage. Persistent vacancy and demolition by neglect are destroying historic buildings that tell the important story of the Civil Rights movement in Baltimore and around the country. Please join Baltimore Heritage as we support tomorrow’s rally urging Bethel AME Church to preserve 1232 Druid Hill Avenue and fight for the protection of West Baltimore’s Civil Rights landmarks. Baltimore Heritage is asking neighborhood leaders and elected officials to support a comprehensive effort to address the deteriorating condition of the landmarks of Baltimore Civil Rights history and ensure their preservation for future generations to discover.
Learn more about our work to document and protect Civil Rights landmarks. For questions or additional information about tomorrow’s rally, please contact Louis Fields, President, African American Tourism Council of Maryland, Inc. at 443-983-7974.
Built in 1868, the three-story brick rowhouse at 1232 Druid Hill Avenue is an important reminder of the city’s rapid growth after the Civil War and the African American history of the Upton neighborhood. Please come to the public CHAP hearing on Tuesday, January 12 to support listing 1232 Druid Hill Avenue as a local landmark and protect the building from demolition. If you are unable to attend, you can share your support for the nomination by email with Eric Holcomb, Executive Director, CHAP at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Continued threats to Civil Rights heritage in West Baltimore neighborhoods highlight the urgent need to preserve 1232 Druid Hill Avenue. In September 2015, Bethel A.M.E. Church received permits for limited interior demolition at 1232 Druid Hill Avenue (acquired by the church in 1981) and the neighboring 1234 Druid Hill Avenue. Regrettably, the work soon led to a roof collapse at 1234 Druid Hill Avenue and the church received a permit to demolish both buildings—despite the fact that 1232 Druid Hill Avenue remained structurally sound. As the contractor tore down the Freedom House in early November, they continued to gut 1232 Druid Hill Avenue with an clear plan to tear the building down shortly.
Fortunately, the Baltimore Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP) stepped up and placed the building on their potential landmark list. The potential landmark list is a new tool for preservation in Baltimore created by the revised CHAP ordinance and replacing the controversial “special list” designation. As the Baltimore Brewreported in November, CHAP posted a notice at 1232 Druid Hill Avenue and scheduled a hearing for January 12 to hear testimony from the owner and members of the public and decide whether to add the building to CHAP’s landmark list.
1232 Druid Hill Avenue tells the story of Baltimore’s changing neighborhoods through the stories of the many families who have called this house home. We call this the King/Briscoe House to recognize two particularly important residents at 1232 Druid Hill Avenue: local printer George W. King (who lived there from 1883 to 1898) and African American wagon driver Abraham Briscoe (who lived there with his family from 1899 to 1908). You can learn more about the history of 1232 Druid Hill Avenue with our draft landmark designation report.
If you plan to testify to support the designation next week, we urge you to read our tips for effective public testimony. The hearing starts at 1:00pm. This is the third item on the agenda so the staff presentation is likely to begin around 1:30pm. To testify, you need to sign up at the front desk for the planning department located just outside the Planning Department hearing room. Please feel free to contact us with any questions or comments or send me an email at email@example.com.
On January 12, the Baltimore Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP) voted unanimously to add the George W. King/Abraham Briscoe House at 1232 Druid Hill Avenue to the city’s historic potential landmark list. Baltimore Heritage worked closely with the Marble Hill Community Association to prepare the landmark nomination. CHAP clearly saw how important it is to save places tied to Baltimore’s African American and Civil Rights heritage—especially after tragic loss of the Freedom House at 1234 Druid Hill Avenue this past fall. The experiences of Abraham Briscoe and the generations of Baltimoreans who lived at 1232 Druid Hill Avenue reflects the history of the Great Migration, racial segregation and the Civil Rights movement in the late 19th and early 20th century.
Fortunately, potential landmark designation protects 1232 Druid Hill Avenue from demolition for the next six months. But because this is only a potential landmark nomination, these protections run out in July unless the Baltimore City Council takes action first. If a member of the City Council introduces an ordinance to list the property as a full city landmark before July, the protections are immediately extended for another eighteen months. If the City Council votes to approve the ordinance and the Mayor signs it into law before the end of that period, the city gives 1232 Druid Hill Avenue landmark status forever.
Last week, we reached out to Councilman Eric Costello (who represents the Upton neighborhood as part of the 11th District) to ask him to join us in protecting this landmark and introduce a landmark designation ordinance. If you are resident of the 11th District, we urge you to reach out to Councilman Costello and share your own support for preserving 1232 Druid Hill Avenue by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Saving 1232 Druid Hill Avenue from demolition is an important step forward in our efforts to preserve Baltimore’s Civil Rights Heritage. We are interested in working with Bethel AME Church to see 1232 Druid Hill Avenue redeveloped for use as a home or community space. We are working residents to expand the Marble Hill Historic District and protect other properties at the edges of the district. We are supporting neighborhood activists fighting for the stabilization of the Harry S. Cummings House at 1318 Druid Hill Avenue. Please subscribe for updates on Baltimore’s Civil Rights heritage for ongoing updates on these efforts and share your own thoughts in the comments.
Please join Maryland Institute College of Art’s (MICA) MFA program in Curatorial Practice and Baltimore City Recreation and Parks for the opening reception of Everyday Utopias, a public art installation at Pool No. 2 in Druid Hill Park. Everyday Utopias invites viewers to consider the promise of both real and imagined aspects of civic participation as they navigate their way through physical structures and spiritual spaces of the pool’s remains.