Jacques Kelly: Technicolor history of Cherry Hill as seen through residents' eyes

A new look at the history of Cherry Hill, told through the words and memories of its residential pioneers, is offering an interesting perspective on the first 25 years of this neighborhood.

“I lived in Cherry Hill from the time I was 4 until I was 11, and it was one of the best times of my life,” said Linda G. Morris, principal author of “Cherry Hill: Raising Successful Black Children in Jim Crow Baltimore.”

Published this month by New York-based History Publishing Co. Global, the work is a digital book selling for $9.95. After 500 digital copies are sold, a print version will be published with a price of $18.95.

Morris said proceeds from sales will go to a nonprofit fund benefiting schools in Cherry Hill.

“I had been thinking about Cherry Hill and the wonderful environment I had for my early childhood,” Morris said. “It was a place where the schools were new and clean and we went on to get good solid jobs, years later, at BGE and the Social Security Administration and the phone company.”

Morris writes in the book: “The Cherry Hill of the early 1940s was heavily wooded with isolated farms, shacks, trailers, and bungalows, sprinkled throughout the area.”

The book notes that the city acquired 275 acres on the Cherry Hill peninsula to develop “Baltimore’s planned community for the colored.”

“At that time, 35 acres were cleared for the development of private residences … and 79 acres were cleared for Cherry Hill Homes, the public housing component,” Morris said.

She said she found by searching through archives of the Afro-American newspaper that the first residents moved into Cherry Hill Homes in December 1945.

“African American families came from all over to live in the first housing in Baltimore City built on vacant land specifically for African Americans,” she wrote. After the first family came in the mid-1940s, extensions of the enclave were built in 1952 and 1956.

Many of the Cherry Hill pioneers were black military veterans and their families. They initially qualified for public housing but moved to other parts of Baltimore as their incomes grew.

“Our lives went from black and white to Technicolor when we moved to Cherry Hill,” she wrote. “It was a vast change from viewing life in the city. Everything in Cherry Hill was shiny and new.”

She recalled seeing woods with spring flowers and a waterfront. “The water let you see out into forever,” she said.

Members of the neighborhood’s history committee said that while growing up, they were unaware that some of the the streets and schools were named for African-American historical figures — such as Mary McLeod Bethune, an activist and educator.

“As young children, we did not understand there was an intentional plan to name our streets for our black heroes,” Morris said.

“People from Cherry Hill love Cherry Hill,” said Myra Owens Queen, who moved to the community in the early 1950s.

“Cherry Hill was still under construction when I was a child,” Queen said. “It was an idyllic place. It was a community that nurtured and developed us.”

She said there were neighborhood doctors who regularly made house calls. They also had dental care available even though, as children, many feared the local dentist’s drills.

“It was a wonderful, mixed community with no distinction between the groups of homeowners and those who lived in public housing,” Queen said.

“It was a good thing they never built a high school here,” she added, “or we would have never ventured out of Cherry Hill.”

“At the point my mother’s income increased, we moved,” Queen said . “We returned to West Baltimore, where out roots were initially.”

For many families, that was the experience at Cherry Hill. It was seen as a place to start; a point on a journey.

Morris’s brother, John H. Morris, an attorney who went on to graduate from Yale University, summed up his years here: “Cherry Hill was an aspirational community.”

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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