Baltimore has long been a major part of the nation’s Black history legacy and is home to numerous museums, schools and other institutions honoring the past. But many are unaware of Baltimore County’s participation in the Underground Railroad, a conglomeration of homes, churches and other safe havens enslaved Americans navigated on their journey north.
Bare Hills, Campfield in Pikesville; Belltown in Owings Mills, Chase and Goodwood/Hyde Park in Essex are all historically Black Baltimore County communities with roots that date back to slavery-era America. Several areas like these towns and corridors were also part of the multi-state Underground Railroad.
To highlight this rich portion of the county’s history, the Baltimore County Office of Fair Practices and Community Affairs is hosting a free bus tour to several of the known and suspected Underground Railroad sites in the area. Guide Louis Diggs, an author and local historian on African-American communities in Baltimore County, said the tour includes visits to the home of Underground Railroad conductor Nicholas Smith, Emmart UM Church and the Emmart-Pierpont Safe House, which was built in 1791. Shirley Supik, owner of Emmart-Pierpont Safe House, will speak about the location’s history and value to runaway slaves who hid there.
Depending on the time available, participants may also visit a church for slaves in Granite that is being converted to a mini museum with photos, memorabilia and artifacts highlighting the county’s African-American life.
While recognized as an expert on the county’s historic African-American communities, Diggs, a lifelong Baltimorean, said he learned a number of fascinating facts about the area’s complex race relations.
“I was most pleasantly surprised to learn that there were many White persons who took serious gambles by hiding runaway slaves, but on the negative side, I was surprised that there are numerous very senior African Americans who would not share these family histories of slavery in Baltimore County,” Diggs told the AFRO. “Most indicated that it was too hard for them to remember those conditions that their ancestors lived under.”
While some older Black Baltimoreans may have been hesitant to reflect on their ancestors’ hardships, their story is now being told through excursions like the free bus trip and a host of new programs and museums highlighting Baltimore’s wealth of Black history.
The bus departs just below the National Guard Armory, 307 Washington Ave.,?at 10 a.m. Sept. 18 and returns to the festival area in Towson around 12:45 p.m. For more information and required registration, call the Baltimore County Office of Fair Practices and Community Affairs at 410-887-5557. Participants will receive confirmation by phone.