The Thurgood Marshall Amenity Center will honor Justice Thurgood Marshall and other civil rights leaders for their outstanding work and sacrifices for the Black community in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Bob Schutz, File)

By Kara Thompson,
MDDC Intern

A groundbreaking ceremony was held on July 2 at the site that will house the new Thurgood Marshall Amenity Center in West Baltimore. The new building will honor the legacy of Justice Marshall and other civil rights leaders from the Upton area, as well as provide resources, education, and community services to the neighborhood and surrounding area.  

“It is only right that on the 114 birthday celebration of Justice Thurgood Marshall, we break ground on the new Thurgood Marshall Amenity Center at the site of Justice Marshall’s very own PS 103. This is how we live out and add to his commitment to Black excellence right here in Baltimore, by investing in the potential of our residents,” said Mayor Brandon M. Scott to his social media followers on June 24. 

The site selected to house the center is Public School No. 103, otherwise known as Henry Highland Garnet School. Marshall attended this segregated elementary school from 1914-1920, and the school was in operation until the 1970s. The school was named after the famous African-American abolitionist, minister, and orator, who was born a slave in Kent County, Md.  

Dr. Rev. Alvin C. Hathaway, president of Beloved Community Services Corporation, said he and his organization responded to an RFP by the city of Baltimore about what to do with PS 103 and laid out their proposal for the amenity center. 

“When I thought about what makes for a great community, I said quality communities have amenities,” said Hathaway. “And then from that, with my team, started to see what kind of amenities we could place into this community.” 

The new center is slated to have many resources for the community. It will house the Judge Alexander Williams Center for Education, Justice, and Ethics, which will help to train future lawyers, as well as teach young people civics and community engagement. 

The Billie Holiday Liberation Arts Project will teach cultural activities, and the University of Maryland will help to teach non-credit medical courses to people in the community. 

Maryland Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin worked with Hathaway to bring a federal investment of $1 million to help restore the building and preserve its history. 

According to Van Hollen, P.S. 103 will “serve as a living monument to great Marylanders who bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice” and will “carry on their legacy by providing new services to the West Baltimore community.” 

Ultimately, the hope is that the center will be incorporated into the National Parks System. 

Although Baltimore has a rich Black history, the Black community in Baltimore has historically struggled to preserve their culture in Charm City. 

The jewel of Pennsylvania Avenue, the Royal Theatre, hosted acts from The Temptations to The Supremes, Nat King Cole, and Etta James. The building was torn down in 1971.

More recently, in September 2020, the West Baltimore home of world renowned Cab Calloway and his sister, female bandleader Blanche Calloway, was razed. The two siblings helped make Baltimore a staple of the Jazz scene.

“When you think about the amazing contributions of African-Americans from the city of Baltimore, they’ve transformed America,” said Hathaway. “I think that we are missing a cultural, economic advantage by not really marketing our African-American culture.”

Dr. Danita Tolson, president of the Baltimore County NAACP (The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), agrees. She says that the only way to combat this is through education.

“Teach it in school and stop trying to get rid of the minority piece in the history of the schools,” she said. “If you’re going to tell the story, tell the whole story.”

Creating the Thurgood Marshall Amenity Center is a way people like Hathaway hope to start preserving Baltimore’s history and culture and ensure that young people growing up in the area are well educated on it.

“If we have this, I think it’s a good opportunity to pass on a legacy and the good things that minorities have done,” said Tolson. “I think that’s an excellent opportunity for [young people].”

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