"It didn't just stop here in the city," Mfume said, highlighting Baltimore County neighborhoods that also are segregated. "These are terrible patterns that have prevented Baltimore from moving forward."
He addressed about 250 people who attended a forum on the economic impact of race, organized by the Interfaith Action on Racial Justice.
Mfume, City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell, the Rev. Grady Yeargin Jr., pastor of City Temple Baptist Church, and Rabbi Rex Perlmeter of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation were among the speakers who addressed the topic of "Present Hope for Healing the Past: The Economics of Race and Slavery in Baltimore" at the forum.
The event was held at Shiloh Christian Community Fellowship Hall in Southwest Baltimore.
Mfume, the keynote speaker, stressed that the problems of the past -- in Baltimore and the nation -- are far from resolved. He noted segregation in housing, religious practice and political participation.
"Just because the leadership in the city is one color or another doesn't mean it's wise leadership," he said. "It is wise leadership only if it seeks to move away from the legacy of the past and build a staircase to the future."
Later, Mfume elaborated. "I only meant to stress that the last thing we want to do is adopt the habits of people who have wronged us," he said.
Mfume said that many of the problems that the Baltimore-based National Association for the Advancement of Colored People previously fought now seem to be re-emerging in the form of hate crimes and hate speech.
"We must continue to think about the historical patterns that have built the rock we stand on," he said.
Yeargin urged the audience to build spiritual coalitions of white and black churches that can "serve as a place where there can be honest dialogue on racism."
"It is the responsibility of those who have access to the powers that be to open access to others." he said. "The African-American church's responsibility is to be about the business of healing."
The Rev. Kiyul Chung of the Congress for Korean Reunification said that tensions -- whether real or perceived -- between African Americans and Koreans wrongly overshadow the potential bonds between the groups.
"The Koreans and blacks are not enemies," he said. "Neither of us are the oppressors. We come from the same economic and political background, where we were oppressed."
Jan Houbolt, director of the Greater Baltimore Committee Leadership Program, said that whites and blacks have important contributions to make to improve the racial dialogue.
"Whites can't see racism the way fish can't see water," he said. "It's part of the environment."