In recognition of the state's African-American lineage and Black History Month, the Maryland Tourism Office has designated February as a time to call attention to this rich cultural tradition.
Imagine a gathering with an elite list of guests: an inventor, a scientist, an explorer, a Supreme Court justice, an orator, a human-rights hero, a few baseball players and a coterie of musicians. Despite their individual interests, the guests share a common trait. They all spent their formative years in Maryland. Moreover, they evoke a wide range of Maryland's rich African-American heritage.
The guest list includes: Henry Blair, Benjamin Banneker, Matthew Henson, Thurgood Marshall, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Leon Day, Judy Johnson, Billie Holiday, Eubie Blake, Chick Webb and Cab Calloway.
Though these "guests" could not have assembled as a single group, visitors to Maryland can learn about them and become better acquainted with their legacies at a variety of attractions and locations across the state.
"Throughout the history of our State and our nation, African-Americans have made significant contributions in fields as diverse as sports, music, law, and civil rights," said Gov. Martin O'Malley. "Their achievements have helped improve our quality of life, secure a better future for our children, and expand opportunity for generations yet to come. It is our proud distinction to be home to so many African-Americans who have played such integral roles in shaping our nation."
Governor O'Malley will participate in an African-American Heritage Tour with students from Annapolis Elementary School in Annapolis, Md. Sponsored by Watermark, the walking tour focuses of the history of African-Americans in the state capitol. Lt. Governor Anthony Brown will celebrate the accomplishments of the county's African-Americans with a group of senior citizens in Prince George's County on February 16.
"Visitors to Maryland can explore the lasting heritage of a long list of distinguished citizens from our African-American communities," said Margot Amelia, director of the Maryland Tourism Office. "Visits to significant places linked to this thread of our history will provide travelers with opportunities to enjoy Maryland's diverse landscape – from the waterfront villages along the Chesapeake Bay to engaging urban centers to magnificent mountain scenery."
One of the state's major attractions is the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture in Baltimore near the Inner Harbor. It's the largest African-American museum on the East Coast, featuring a 2,000-seat theater, oral-history studio and substantial exhibition space. An exhibition of graphic works by artist Romare Bearden runs through March.
"February is a special month for the Reginald F. Lewis Museum," said David T. Terry, the museum's executive director. "We are celebrating the 2010 Black History Month theme of 'economic empowerment' – a theme that honors the accomplishments of the museum's namesake, Reginald F. Lewis, who was chair and CEO of TLC Beatrice International, the largest U.S. company owned by an African-American during his lifetime."
Here are some other places listed by region where visitors can experience Maryland's African-American heritage:
•Doleman Black Heritage Museum – started as a hobby by Marguerite Doleman out of her Hagerstown home in 1974 – has a collection of books, artifacts and artwork that depict African-American history in Washington County. Visitors can see it by appointment (301-739-8185). A fundraiser for the museum is set for Feb. 27 at The Maryland Theatre, also in Hagerstown. Performers include the Coppin State University Choir (Baltimore) and students from Hagerstown's Barbara Ingram School for the Arts.
•The Kennedy Farmhouse in Sharpsburg was the staging location where abolitionist John Brown and his small army prepared for their raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry in 1859 – an event that is often considered to have been the start of the Civil War. This restored National Historic Landmark is open for tours.
•Dorsey Chapel (Glenn Dale) and Northampton Plantation Slave Quarters Archeological Site (Mitchellville) are both run by Prince George's County. Dorsey – the religious and social center of a rural African-American community for more than 70 years – was built in 1900 and restored in 1996. Visitors to Northampton can see the rebuilt foundations of two 19th-century slave quarters from the remains of a tobacco plantation.
•Josiah Henson Site, formerly called the "Riley Farm/Uncle Tom's Cabin," is in Bethesda. Reverend Josiah Henson's 1849 autobiography was the inspiration for Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin . Henson lived and worked as a slave at Isaac Riley's farm from 1795 to 1830. He then managed to escape to Canada.
•Sandy Spring Slave Museum & African Art Gallery in Sandy Spring is open for tours by appointment (SlaveMuseum@yahoo.com). Exhibits include cross-section of a ship that transported slaves across the ocean, slave-era log cabin, arts pavilion and resource library.
•Banneker Historical Park and Museum in Oella (Western Baltimore County) is the site of the Banneker family's farmstead dating back to the 17th century. Benjamin Banneker became prominent as a self-taught mathematician and astronomer. The 142-acre park, which has a permanent Banneker exhibition, is also a showcase for colonial history and environmental conservation. A number of trails are on the site, including the historic No. 9 Trolley Line Trail.
•The Banneker-Douglass Museum, located in Annapolis, maintains the state's official collection of African-American history and culture. Named for Benjamin Banneker and Frederick Douglass, the museum hosts lectures, workshops and performances. One of the current exhibitions is Portraits of Courage , a collection of paintings that features prominent African-Americans in Maryland history.
•Eubie Blake National Jazz Institute and Cultural Center, in Baltimore, hosts musical theater and jazz concerts. It also has a gallery and runs performing-arts classes. On Feb. 14, the center presents Maysa – a 2009 Soul Train Music Award winner – in a Valentine's Day concert. February gallery exhibit, Love's Theory: A Visual Expression, uses paintings, photography, poetry and film.
•Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park, located on the water in Baltimore's Fells Point section, offers exhibitions, gallery talks, tours and hands-on learning programs. The park depicts the history of the African-American community during the 1800s, along with the maritime traditions of the region. Douglass, who had lived and worked on the local docks, was an abolitionist, orator and statesman. Myers was a founder of Chesapeake Marine Railway and Dry Dock Company – the first African-American owned and operated shipyard – and a national labor leader.
•Hampton National Historic Site, a National Park Service property in Baltimore County, was the location of the largest house in the country in 1790. The site incorporated an area half the size of present-day Baltimore. Indentured servants and slaves were a major part of the history of the estate, where the Ridgely family assembled a fortune through agriculture, manufacturing and commerce.
•The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum, in Baltimore, is the nation's first African-American history wax museum. More than 100 life-sized figures are on display. A fundraiser for the museum is set for Sports Legends at Camden Yards, Feb. 27, as a tribute to Baltimore boxer Joe Gans (the first African-American sports champion) who won the lightweight title in 1902.
•African-American Heritage Society Museum in La Plata has artifacts, documents and photographs that depict the history of African-Americans in Charles County from 1658 to the present. The society promotes awareness of African-American contributions to the development of Southern Maryland.
•Sotterley Plantation in Hollywood (near St. Mary's City) is the only remaining Tidewater plantation in Maryland that is open to the public. Older than both Mount Vernon and Monticello, Sotterley includes an early-18th-century mansion, an original slave cabin and an assortment of other buildings on 95 acres of fields and gardens just off the Patuxent River. The 2010 speaker series opens Feb. 6 with FREE at Last - Black History Celebration! This all-day event includes storytelling, music and tours.
• Harriet Tubman Museum and Educational Center is one of an assortment of Cambridge locations that link to the story of Harriet Tubman, the runaway slave from Dorchester County who led hundreds to freedom through the Underground Railroad during the 1850s. A Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park in Caroline, Dorchester and Talbot counties is in the planning stages. Tubman's name topped Glamour magazine's list of "the seven most courageous women ever" in the publication's January 2010 issue.
More information about Maryland's African-American heritage is available in brochures that can be ordered through the Tourism Office's web site, including: Underground Railroad and Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway . An updated African-American History brochure will also be available soon.
In January, the Tourism Office spotlighted Maryland bed and breakfasts. Previous monthly themes have included Maryland's designated Main Streets, Chesapeake Bay art; hiking and biking; educa-tours; buying local; and Maryland wine.
To receive free Maryland travel information - Destination Maryland , Maryland Calendar of Events and a state highway map - by mail, call 800-719-5900. Information can also be found on the Tourism web site: VisitMaryland.org .
About Maryland tourism
The Maryland Office of Tourism is an agency of the Division of Tourism, Film and the Arts within the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. Recently reported visitor data shows that the state welcomed more than 28 million visitors in 2008 who spent nearly $14.5 billion on travel-related expenses – a 3.2 percent increase in spending over 2007. During 2008, the Maryland tourism industry also generated close to $1.8 billion in state and local taxes and provided 146,000 jobs to Maryland residents.