By Congressman Elijah Cummings
The Thing I Love About Baltimore
Recently, the AFRO American newspaper decided to celebrate the anniversary of its first 1892 publication in a way that is unusual for a news medium that, all too often, reports events and decisions in our lives that are difficult, dangerous and shocking.
In contrast, the AFRO decided to reach out to the people of Baltimore and ask them to tell their neighbors and the world what they love most about our home town.
As a result, the paper is publishing some of these reflections in its weekly editions, and many of the most insightful are being compiled into an anniversary book that will celebrate, not the paper itself, but the community that it has served for nearly 127 years
True to its tradition of lifting up our community, the AFRO saw the importance of our sharing with each other all that is noble and good about Baltimore – and why we love our home town with such passion.
Why this initiative is so important.
We are a community that is almost compulsively honest and candid. We do not hesitate to critique and protest what we see as lacking and wrong in our City.
Yet, for my family and most of the people I know, there is an equally true, more insightful, and far more positive reality about Baltimore and the people who live here.
I have read some of the essays that have been submitted, and it is this more inspiring human reality about our city that The Thing I Love About Baltimore reveals.
As one might expect, there are reflections about our close-knit neighborhoods and breathtaking parks, our great restaurants and centers of music and art, our community celebrations, ethnic festivals and wonderful Inner Harbor.
Most heartening to me, however, are the testaments of admiration about the people of our hometown.
Readers of The Thing I Love About Baltimore will share the personal visions of all that is good about our community from (among others) a former Senator and the leader of our public schools, from a minister and an artist, from a national journalist, a comedienne and a social justice advocate, from the 2019 Baltimore Teacher of the Year and some promising third graders at Robert Coleman Elementary School.
So, when the Rev. Dorothy Boulware, the AFRO’s editor emerita, asked me to contribute a “Forward” to this celebration of our community, I had to agree.
I could not refuse because The Thing I Love About Baltimore reveals the courage, hopes, determination and compassion of a people who take the hard things in life in stride, who keep getting up when we get knocked down, and who, more often than not, lift up others as we climb.
I also had to agree because, throughout my entire life, the AFRO American has exemplified all that is important and good in our community – as it does, once again, with the upcoming publication of this compilation.
Some reflections of my own.
It was the paper’s long-time editor, Mr. John Oliver, Sr., who gave me my first job delivering the paper – and who encouraged me to attend college.
From the paper’s writers, I learned how the AFRO and other black newspapers across the country chronicled our migration from the sharecropping fields of the South into the factories of the North, including those of Baltimore.
I came to understand how, during World War II, the black press documented the heroism of our soldiers, sailors and airmen, and how, during the Red Scares of the 1950s, newspapers like the AFRO were forced to struggle against both financial pressure and attacks by the agents of the McCarthy era.
Under John Oliver, Sr., the newspaper editor who lifted me up, the newspaper survived, exposing the brutal face of Jim Crow and the fundamental unfairness of segregation, providing the social and intellectual foundations for the movement toward civil rights.
In the words of “Soldiers without Swords,” Stanley Nelson’s controversial 1998 documentary for PBS, the AFRO and the other institutions of the black press “gave a voice to the voiceless.”
Today, in the complicated world of 2019, and thanks in no small part to the AFRO American, you, I and all of Baltimore are voiceless no more.
We can stand together in the face of hateful words and actions from anyone, however prominent our attackers may be.
In the words of the renowned poet, Langston Hughes, once a correspondent for the AFRO, an engaged and hopeful Baltimore can proudly declare: “I have known rivers: Ancient, dusky rivers. My soul has grown deep like the rivers.”
This is the hopeful, self-confident, and empowering message of The Thing I Love About Baltimore, a message that we can pass on to our children.
And this is the insight about our courage, strength, talent and humanity that will allow us to prevail.
Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Afro-American Newspapers.