A sense of history

"History is the greatest narrative," the Rev. Heber Brown III told more than 20 people in the pews Feb. 17 at Pleasant Hope Baptist Church.

The church held a Black History Month event that was billed as "a celebration of north Baltimore's black history," and featured guest speaker Louis Diggs, a noted local black historian.

"The man is making the rounds this month," Brown said.

Diggs' talk and accompanying slide show was mostly about the black history of Baltimore County, but Brown, 12th pastor of the 79-year-old city church at 430 E. Belvedere Ave., near Cafe Zen and Belvedere Square, filled in historical blanks about the history of the church and black neighborhoods in the York Road corridor.

He name-dropped well-known black businesmen and celebrities, including jazzman Cab Calloway, who grew up in the area, Harry O'Neill Wilson Sr., one of the first black bankers in Maryland and the namesake of the Wilson Park community on York Road, and attorney Stuart Simms, a graduate of Chinquapin Elementary and Gilman schools, and former state secretary of public safety and corrections.

Brown also told of Pleasant Hope's roots in the 1800s and the merger between two churches, Mount Pleasant Church and the Good Hope Mission, that created Pleasant Hope in 1933, when it was referred to on a map of the area as a "colored church."

"I am righteously proud, as my father would say, to represent the people of this beautiful church," said Brown, 31. But he said he wanted to be like Diggs, "when I grow up."

Although the church's congregation is mostly black, a quarter of the people who came to the talk were white. Pleasant Hope has lately become a meeting place for organizations such as the Greater Homewood Community Corp.

The history event was important, Brown said, as a way to "reach across pews and barriers."

—Larry Perl

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