If you know the Black Bottom is more than a dessert; if you know the real reason God made Tommy Hunt human and if you have a lonely memory craving an age-appropriate companion, you won’t want to miss the first annual Pennsylvania Avenue Heritage Festival on Labor Day weekend. Those who stepped high in parades and bumped to the rhythm of the music at the Royal Theater probably never imagined a cultural center being a hub of economic redevelopment for that community. But that’s the plan of neighborhood and corporate partners who’ve aligned themselves to create The Royal Theater & Community Heritage Corp.

The vision coming to fruition includes remembering or learning the wealth of Black history resident in Baltimore and finding ways to improve life for current residents.

Tourism is a $3 billion industry and Baltimore is not fully vested, according to TRTCHC president and CEO James Hamlin. “We’re not taking advantage of our heritage, nor are we protecting it,” Hamlin said. “Too many of us are unaware of the treasure we have in the city, especially the West Baltimore area.”

Hamlin said the planners, including the Mayor’s Office of Baltimore Heritage, the Pennsylvania Avenue Renewal Committee (PARC) and other community leaders, easily composed a list of 70 sites that deserve retrospection and education.

“But limited funding demanded that we narrow the sites to 25,” Hamlin said, referring to tour stops along the official Heritage Trail identified by the planning committee.

“Who knows the origin of Shake and Bake’s name? Or who paved the way for minority participation in government contracts? Who knows where Thurgood Marshall lived?” Hamlin said, rattling off questions with rapid fire. “We have such a rich history that we need to respect so we can move forward.”

Planners have involved the younger generation by instituting an essay contest, “Poetry in Motion,” that is available to parents and teachers to encourage their budding writers. The first step is to choose one site along the trail – preview at www.pennsylvaniaavenuebaltimore.com – as the subject of their composition, so the lessons continue beyond the designated weekend. Winning pieces of those submitted by the Sept. 30 deadline will be displayed on MTA buses.

The subject could be The Royal Theater that showered hospitality on the best of the best because of its eminence as one of only five stops on the Chitlin’ Circuit, which had to be successfully completed to mark a performer’s preparedness for the “Big Time.”

The Royal joined the Apollo in Harlem, the Regal in Chicago, the Earl in Philadelphia and the Howard in Washington, D.C., and was the venue of the first talking motion picture in 1929, {Scar of Shame,} which boasted an all-Black cast. Though it was demolished in 1971, it lives as a “cinema treasure” on the website of the same name. And it lives in the hearts of those who remember its glory days and the pleasure they experienced.

“There were electrifying performances by the likes of Stevie Wonder, Jackie Wilson and James Brown, and the young shoe-shiners popping rags in time with the sound of music from nearby jukeboxes,” Hamlin remembered on the committee’s website. “On The Avenue, you could greet national celebrities face-to-face, as they visited a network of African-American businesses, including clothiers, barbers and musicians in preparation for the next show.”

The Cadillac Parade has its own celebrity status. It was premiered in 1946 and was held consistently until 1972. Since its 1996 revival, it has engaged and re-engaged those luxury vehicle aficionados who would drive nothing less. Registration is still open for anyone who wants to be included in the festivities. And the younger ones won’t be left out.

“Did you know that Morgan’s dormitories used to be on Pennsylvania Avenue?” Hamlin asked, still putting that history out there. “We’re embracing that bond by inviting fraternities and sororities to participate in the parade. We need them to get the history too and to share it with their children and grandchildren.”

The committee also wants to involve Elks, Masons and veterans’ groups. “We need the entire community,” Hamlin said. Including the faith community.

Pastors in the Upton neighborhood are positioning themselves and their congregations to have a discernible impact where they serve. They will convene for worship at 3 p.m., Sept. 5, at Pennsylvania and Lafayette avenues, with the music ministry of The Singing Sensations under the direction of Dr. Hollie Hood-Mincey. At that time, the alliance will make an important announcement.

“We will use the occasion to announce ‘5 Churches, 2 Commandments, 5,000 Families,’ a program through which we will support five schools and provide food to 5,000 families within the community,” said the Rev. Dr. Alvin Hathaway Sr., pastor of the historic Union Baptist Church on Druid Hill Avenue. Other pastors are the Rev. Drs. Lester A. McCorn, Pennsylvania Avenue AMEZ; Douglas Summers, Providence Baptist Church; Frank Madison Reid III, Bethel AME and S. Todd Yeary, Douglas Memorial Community Church.

“Persons from our churches will participate in the schools as hall monitors and provide tutoring services. We will also assist in lowering household electricity costs,” Rev. Hathaway said. “An additional goal is to increase employment of our neighbors on the large number of capital improvement jobs that are in close proximity.”

He said this is the beginning of their work together. “More initiatives will follow.” In concert with the beginning of the Pennsylvania Avenue Heritage Festival that is envisioned by its planners to become a national event over time.

Sept. 3 Unveiling of the Heritage Trail with entertainment by The Spindles.
Sept. 4 The Cadillac Parade at noon, followed by the Panama Band and much more throughout the evening.
Sept. 5 A faith-based service with performance by The Singing Sensations.
For more information or to register for the parade, visit www.royaltchc.com or call the office at 410-795-2346.