- The Washington Times - Friday, August 18, 2000

Just as the story told in the book "Roots" symbolically represents the ancestral experience of all African Americans, so does this … memorial here in the city of Annapolis represent a symbolic observance similar in other relevant U.S. cities.
Alex Haley, of the memorial plaque to Kunta Kinte at Annapolis City Dock, installed in 1981.

ANNAPOLIS Annapolis abounds with history, but one compelling chapter often overlooked in Maryland's capital city is the story of the many blacks who arrived here enslaved in the 1700s.
Since 1992, the city of Annapolis' Historic Preservation Commission and the Maryland Historical Trust have sponsored intensive and exhaustive research in documenting historic buildings throughout the city related to the black experience.
For more than 300 years, blacks have been a significant portion of Maryland's population. During Colonial times the labor of both slaves and free blacks was the cornerstone upon which the tobacco industry was built. In the 19th century, Maryland was home to more free blacks than any other state.
Tracing the signs of black heritage in the 18th-century seaport town is best done by beginning near the City Dock, where stands a bronze sculpture of best-selling author Alex Haley, reading to three schoolchildren.
The memorial, completed and dedicated to the author of "Roots" in December, is an excellent starting point for navigating the other sites connected to the black experience in Annapolis.
Mr. Haley, who died in 1992, had strong ties to this city. They are highlighted in his Pulitzer Prize-winning 1976 historical novel, which traces 10 generations of his family from Gambia to the United States. The book tells of the struggles of Mr. Haley's ancestor Kunta Kinte, who arrived here in shackles in September 1767 aboard the slave ship Lord Ligonier.
But Kunta Kinte was only one of many Africans who arrived on Maryland shores against their will, later to be shipped all over the South.
Writer Chris Haley, a nephew of Alex Haley's who works full-time as associate director of reference services at the Maryland State Archives, becomes passionate when discussing Maryland's history and the plight of the Africans who arrived here.
"Like my uncle, I became fascinated with genealogy, and somehow spiritual forces enlightened me to return to Maryland following a stint in Florida to research my roots and ancestry on my mother's side," Chris Haley says.
"I carried an avid interest in history. The important aspect of Kunta Kinte and his arrival in Maryland, which is documented in the beginning of the book, is that Maryland was a on a major trade route where many African Americans were brought before they were sent to points throughout the South. Because it was a major seaport, it became a passageway where many African Americans were brought, and it mirrors what other seaports along the Eastern Seabord experienced.
"In short, its true significance is as a microcosm of a very important, albeit painful, era in the annals of American history."
Mr. Haley calls attention to the fact that the sculpture dedicated to his uncle depicts children of three races — African, Caucasian and Asian. "We wanted to display that America was a melting pot of all ethnicities. This was foremost in our mind when we began reviewing designs for the sculpture," he says.

Other parts of the story of Maryland's African heritage can be found nearby, at the Banneker-Douglass Museum, the Thurgood Marshall Memorial, the Maynard Burgess House, the William Butler House, the Brewer Hill Cemetery and the Frederick Douglass summer home in Highland Beach.
The Banneker-Douglass Museum at 84 Franklin St. near Church Circle, named after two very eminent black Marylanders, is the state's "official repository of materials of African American heritage." The site, on the National Register of Historic Places, was built in 1874. It is housed within the former Mount Moriah African Methodist Episcopal Church and features changing exhibits, lectures and films.
Not far from here in the lobby of the State House is a bronze plaque honoring Matthew Henson, a black navigator and guide who accompanied Admiral Robert E. Peary to the North Pole in 1909. Henson is buried at Arlington National Cemetery beside Peary. Initially turned down for Arlington when he died in 1955 because he had not been a member of the armed forces, he was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in New York and reinterred at Arlington only in 1988.
Another prominent black person with strong Maryland ties is Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first black justice to serve on the Supreme Court, who was born in Baltimore in 1908. The Thurgood Marshall Memorial, a bronze bust, can be found at Lawyers Mall outside the State House.
The Maynard-Burgess House at 163 Duke of Gloucester St. was the home of two successive black American families from 1847 to 1900. The home, across from City Hall, is a tribute to the free black population in Annapolis in the 1800s. It is named after John Maynard, who was born a free black in Maryland in 1811, and William Burgess, whose family owned the property until 1990.
The William H. Butler House, at 148 Duke of Gloucester St., was also the residence of a free black who bought the house in 1863. Butler, one of the wealthiest black Americans in Annapolis in 1860, served on the Annapolis City Council from 1873 until 1875, becoming the first black in Maryland elected to public office.
The People's Brewer Hill Cemetery, a burying ground owned entirely by blacks, had its beginnings when a group of trustees from the Mount Moriah and Asbury Methodist congregations purchased land on West Street in 1884.
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One very important site in the African American Trail and perhaps the most interesting is the Frederick Douglas summer home in Highland Beach, a community just beyond Eastport. The house, which overlooks the Chesapeake Bay, is open by appointment only. Admission is free.
Highland Beach was founded as the first summer resort for blacks in 1893 by Charles Douglass, youngest son of Frederick Douglass. The community, chartered as the first black American township in the state of Maryland in 1922, became a haven for other prominent blacks at the turn of the century, attracting Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson and Booker T. Washington, among others.
The two-story structure, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was owned by descendants of the Douglass family until 1989, when it was purchased by the state of Maryland.
The home was completely restored with private money and is where Frederick Douglass wanted to retire. Artifacts now outline the home's interiors. In one of his journals Douglass wrote, "I want to look across the Eastern shore where I was born as a slave and sit here where I am a free man." Construction on the house began in 1893 but was not completed until 1895.
Period furnishings and artifacts connected to Douglass' life can be found in its interior.
A summer retreat during the height of segregation, today the house stands as a symbol of freedom. The two-mile community is a close-knit one, and Mayor Ray Langston says, "Highland Beach became a mecca in 1893 for many African Americans who wanted to escape the injustices of segregation — a creative summer enclave where scholars, thinkers, poets, artists and intellectuals could come and exchange ideas."
The small community, Mr. Langston says, plays a significant part in the history of blacks in Maryland and offers a glimpse into a part of Annapolis' past that for so long had gone largely unrecognized.

WHAT: Annapolis' annual Kunta Kinte commemoration ceremony. Music, dance and special presentations by the Haley family to mark Kunta Kinte's arrival in Annapolis.
WHERE: Annapolis City Dock at Kunta Kinte plaque and Alex Haley memorial.
WHEN: 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Sept. 29
COST: Free
PHONE: Kunta Kinte Celebrations at 410/349-0338 or www.kuntakinte.org.

WHAT: Banneker-Douglass Museum
WHERE: 84 Franklin St., Annapolis
WHEN: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, noon-4 p.m. Saturday
COST: Free; possible charge for individual events
PHONE: 410/216-6180

WHAT: The Barge House Museum, with a small exhibit on the history of the black community in Eastport from 1868 to 2000
WHERE: Eastport, Md.
WHEN: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday or by appointment
COST: Free
PHONE: Peg Wallace at 410/268-1802

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