By Frances Murphy “Toni” Draper,
When I was a young child, my mother, my brother, my sister, and I made weekly trips to the “country,” as we called our grandparents’ home.
It took nearly an hour to travel from our West Baltimore home, near Elgin Avenue and Poplar Grove Street, to the end of Arlington Avenue where they lived, now known as Cold Spring Lane. There stood a quiet 27-acre neighborhood just east of what was then known as Morgan State College.
We loved going to our grandparents’ home– after all, it was the place where our mother and her four sisters grew up. It was the place where we could run outside with no worry about traffic. It was the place where we learned about Black history and German opera. And it was the place with an elevator, a color television, a dishwasher and more than one bathroom – none of the amenities available at our house.
What we didn’t know at the time, was the history of our grandparents’ home – a home that was built in 1929. According to the late Dr. Roland C. McConnell, author of The History of Morgan Park: A Baltimore Neighborhood 1917-1999, “upon learning that Morgan
] was negotiating for this valuable piece of property, those concerned mounted an opposition that grew increasingly stronger and culminated in two lawsuits and attempted legislative enactment.”
Indeed many attempts were made to keep Blacks from building houses in what a full-page ad in the AFRO then called “the only restricted suburban development in Maryland with city sewer, electricity, concrete footways, city water, city gas, macadamized streets and annex taxes.”
Despite the opposition, beautiful homes were built for beautiful Black families in Morgan Park.
The space where my grandparents raised their family, and where W. E. B. Du Bois and many Morgan professors once lived, is still thriving. While there are many new residents, some of the homes– like my grandparents’ property– have been in the same family for nearly 100 years. And, as the current owners, my husband and I are planning to keep it as a family home.
Part of that planning includes making sure that our paperwork and important documents related to the property are in order. We refuse to let the property fall through legal cracks. There are far too many members of the Black community living in what are known as “Heirs’ Property” – or, homes informally passed down from generation to generation.
According to a recent article in The Guardian, “if a person doesn’t legally own the home, they can’t use it as capital for loans and mortgages as other homeowners might. They also are excluded from many federal and state grants historically given to homeowners to recover from disasters and could be at risk of losing the home entirely .
The U.S. Department of Agriculture calls this unstable form of property ‘the leading cause of Black involuntary land loss,’ and increasingly, scholars recognize it as a contributor to the growing racial wealth inequality in the U.S.
This special edition of the AFRO is aimed at making sure AFRO readers are knowledgeable about the housing market, housing policy, bias in the real estate industry, and the process of home ownership. This edition will also shine a spotlight on African American realtors and contractors.
Read about changes in the rental market if you are not looking to buy a property, and keep our in-depth guide handy for when you are ready to prepare for homeownership!
Help us Continue to tell OUR Story and join the AFRO family as a member – subscribers are now members! Join here!