This concrete courtyard in East Baltimore was the place to come for Malcolm X paraphernalia: Malcolm X T-shirts, Malcolm X books, Malcolm X compact discs and, of course, "X" caps. You could even buy "X" potato chips.
In the midst of this, a poet took to the stage to sound off in celebration of a legacy centuries older than the civil rights leader's controversial teachings of a quarter-century ago.
"We are hated all over the world because we are black. It's time for us to unite," said Abiola Valentine. "A return to tradition is the first step forward."
The tradition of which she spoke is of an African society with kings and queens -- a tradition that most certainly did not start with slave ships, she said.
Ms. Valentine's message was happily received by those wearing flowing Nigerian robes, kente cloth head bands and kufi hats at yesterday's festival at the Sojourner-Douglass College on North Caroline Street. The celebration, which was organized by the Baltimore Malcolm X Commemoration Committee and is expected to draw more than 2,000 people, is one of two this weekend in Maryland honoring the slain black leader.
The Black Political Forum of Anne Arundel County will sponsor a celebration starting at 2 p.m. today at Truxton Park in Annapolis. Celebrations are also planned for today in Washington.
At the Baltimore festival, sustained drumming by musicians from the Freedom School helped to create a tranquil atmosphere. To walk around the vending tables was to smell incense one moment and deep-fried fish the next.
In other words, a serious contemplation of your heritage is one thing, but what's a festival without good food?
Also on the fun side: relay races for the children, who had been taught about Malcolm X through stories, crafts and games. The festival also offered a "teach-in" on Malcolm X's legacy. James Turner, president of the National Malcolm X Commemoration Committee, and Ron Lee, a consultant to Spike Lee's film on the life of Malcolm X, were scheduled to speak.
Martin Price was on hand to sell T-shirts with "original sayings" encouraging black pride and progress. But he said he saw the day's events as more than a chance to make a buck.
"The value of this is, to me, you learn something about your past, your present and future," he said. "You're not going to learn it going to Mondawmin or Owings Mills or Marley Station."