In Baltimore, Monarch students walk a path of civil rights history

For The Baltimore Sun
Monarch students in Baltimore to follow footsteps of Marshall, Jackson and others.

When eighth-graders at Monarch Academy crack open their textbooks to read about the lives of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and Baltimore NAACP organizer Lillie Mae Carroll Jackson, they'll do so knowing they've sat in the same church pews and walked along the same streets as the civil rights legends.

When they learn about segregation in Baltimore's restaurants and parks, they'll recall standing on the grassy plot in Druid Hill Park where a "colored-only" swimming pool once sat, just a short distance from the ornate recreation pavilion that was reserved for white patrons.

On Thursday, more than 70 students from Monarch Academy in Glen Burnie spent a day walking in the footsteps of civil rights leaders and viewing some of the locations where Marshall, Jackson and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote history. Students learned throughout the day that while some storefronts may have changed names, the shadows of the men and women who visited them still loom large over the neighborhoods.

"It was really interesting knowing that we walked in places where these famous people walked — people who, if they didn't exist, our world probably wouldn't exist," said 13-year-old Cruz Flores.

Guided by Renaissance Productions and Tours, which specializes in African-American heritage tours, the students enrolled in a humanities course at Monarch began the day visiting Northwood Shopping Center, where Morgan State students in the early 1960s rallied against a segregated movie theater and restaurant where blacks could work but never eat.

One of the day's tour guides, Reba Bullock, participated in the protests when she was a student at Morgan, and talked about what she and her classmates — some of whom were just a few years older than the Monarch students — experienced.

Aboard two buses, the students drove past the site of Read's Drugstore, where one of the first sit-ins in the civil rights movement took place, then visited Druid Hill Park to view the site of the segregated pool before touring the Upton community, past the childhood home of Marshall, the renowned attorney who became the first African-American to serve as a Supreme Court justice.

Monarch teacher J.P. Bennett saw the tour as a chance for his students to build a closer relationship with historical figures and events.

"It allows young people to explore the experience, to build more complex relationships with context, and really make history come alive," Bennett said.

"When they come to these places and they actually experience it? It's a different kind of learning," said humanities instructor Kate Wright.

At Sharp Street United Methodist Church, historian Dorothy Dougherty explained the pivotal role the 117-year-old building played in the civil rights movement. The 1,200-seat church was home base to many local leaders and served as a hub of activity for African-Americans in Baltimore.

"Sharp Street was the place in the city that accommodated the needs of African-American people who were denied rights and other things," said Dougherty, a member of the church since 1946.

Local actress Kay Merrill portrayed Lillie Mae Carroll Jackson and told the story of Jackson's upbringing in the neighborhood, her role in the civil rights movement and work as the first female president of the Baltimore NAACP, when it became the largest NAACP chapter in the country.

"You young people need to know freedom ain't free. We have to fight for our freedom. I want you to realize you can be strong leaders in your communities, strong leaders in your homes," Merrill said.

"Our work is not yet finished," she said. "There's still work to be done."

Many students were struck by the history that took place on the ground where they stood.

"It was an unbelievable experience. Just to think that these famous people were in that church, and I was just in that church. I just can't believe it," said Destiny Zachary, 14.

At the Avenue Bakery, next to a mural dedicated to the civil rights movement, the students heard from former state Sen. and Baltimore City Councilman Michael B. Mitchell, who grew up blocks away and told the students about his upbringing as well as the accomplishments of his father, legendary political activist Clarence M. Mitchell Jr.

For the students from Anne Arundel, he brought the story home: Mitchell told them about getting arrested and beaten by police after trying to eat at a segregated restaurant in Annapolis in 1964.

Eighth-grader Sabrina Burk said Mitchell's speech resonated deeply with her and her classmates.

"It was quite something," she said. "No one spoke during the talk. I didn't hear any of my classmates whispering or anything. Everyone was really into it."

Mitchell left the students with a word of advice.

"Judge people for who they are," he said, "and use this opportunity to read and learn about history.

"My father grew up in an alley and became a confidant of presidents," Mitchell said. "If he can do that, you can do anything you want."

Copyright © 2017, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
21°