While Pennsylvania Avenue’s heyday may just be a highlight in many Baltimorean’s memories, the corridor’s annual homecoming celebration aims to recapture its legacy and showcase its importance to new generations.

The Royal Theater & Company Heritage Corporation’s Pennsylvania Avenue Homecoming Weekend Festival will commence on Sept. 9 with numerous activities and events in honor of the area’s historic past.

The three-day event kicks off with the unveiling of the Pennsylvania Avenue Heritage Trail. The extensive tour allows visitors to see the many Black historic landmarks in the neighborhood including its famed churches, civil rights hotspots and renowned entertainment venues.

On Sept. 10, the annual Cadillac Parade will start the day as new and vintage models drive down the mile-long route in front of a bevy of spectators. Shortly thereafter, organizers will host a fashion show, a poetry contest and a grandiose battle of the bands contest. Vendors and numerous tours will also be featured throughout the day.

Closing the event on Sept. 11 will be a faith-based presentation and a special ceremony recognizing the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

James Hamlin, president and CEO of TRTCHC has ties to the historic neighborhood and fondly remembers its prime.

“I grew up in this community on Druid Hill Avenue and McCulloh Street and I know how important this community has been to our country and it was a great time,” he said. “We had great people walk through the community. I know what it was like and I know how great it was. These are my roots.”

In the early twentieth century, “The Avenue,” (what it was affectionately called), flourished with an assortment of minority-owned businesses and entertainment venues. It was the birthplace of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and the home of the NAACP.

At the neighborhood’s legendary Royal Theater, visitors could enjoy shows from many renowned performers including Baltimore’s own Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington and Moms Mabley, to name a few. The classic Sphinx Club also saw the presence of many national superstars. Seasoned Baltimoreans can recall a time when the famous corridor was bustling with activity and often deemed the mecca of Black life in Charm City.

By 1968 however, The Avenue experienced a stark decline following the murder of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. Looters and rioters stripped the area of its glitz, ushering it into its demise.

But through the work of TRTCHC, Pennsylvania Avenue is experiencing a rebirth.

They’ve already launched a handful of new businesses and entertainment venues. They plan to revitalize the area surrounding the famous Billie Holiday statue and erect reincarnations of the corridor’s famous historic landmarks like the Sphinx and the Royal.

Hamlin says the area’s revitalization is important because younger generations are sadly unaware of its famous legacy.

“Those of us who are in our 50s and 60s and up know how important it has been to this country. But our young people aren’t aware of that and they don’t have that same sense of pride in our community of the accomplishments that we have made as a people,” he said. “It is important for us to pass on that legacy and instill that sense of pride and legacy, therefore enriching their lives.”

For more information on The 2011 Pennsylvania Avenue Homecoming Weekend Festival: Rebuilding the Royal, visit: www.royaltchc.com.

Gregory Dale

AFRO News Editor