The Baltimore Experience African American Heritage Notable Baltimoreans
Earl “Papa Bear” Banks
From 1960 to 1973, Earl “Papa Bear” Banks served as the head football coach at historically black Morgan State University. Under his leadership, the team won 96 games (31 were consecutive victories), earned five CIAA Championships, captured two bowl titles, and sent 40 players to the National Football League. With three undefeated regular seasons and a 0.839 winning percentage, Banks was ranked as one of the top football coaches in the United States. Banks retired from Morgan in 1987. In 1992, he was inducted into the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame. He died in 1993.
Jackson & Mitchell Families
The Mitchell-Jackson family is celebrated as civil rights leaders that fought to dismantle Jim Crow laws by advocating against racial segregation, disenfranchisement, and educational inequities. Family matriarch Lillie Carroll Jackson is considered the “mother of the Civil Rights Movement” and introduced non-violent resistance as a strategy against segregation. Parren Mitchell was elected as Maryland’s first black U.S. representative in 1970. His brother, Clarence Mitchell, Jr., helped secure passage of a series of civil rights laws in the 1950s and ’60s. Clarence’s wife Juanita Jackson Mitchell (daughter of Lillie Carroll Jackson) became Maryland’s first African American female attorney in 1950. Members of the family continue to be involved in politics and the advancement of civil rights.
Baltimore’s Jazz Royalty
Baltimore’s black neighborhoods have nurtured some of the nation’s most important jazz artists. Pianist and Baltimore native Eubie Blake (1883-1983) composed more than 350 songs. In 1921, Blake and collaborator Noble Sissle saw their ragtime musical Shuffle Along open on Broadway, the first show written and directed by African Americans. Notable hits include “Memories of You” and “I’m Just Wild About Harry.”
Chick Webb (1909-1939), also born in Baltimore, was an innovative swing drummer and the house bandleader with accompanist Ella Fitzgerald at the Savoy Ballroom. He was legendary facing challengers in the Savoy’s popular “Battle of the Band” contests.
A singer and bandleader raised in Baltimore, Cab Calloway’s (1907-1994) big break was replacing the Duke Ellington Orchestra at New York’s famed Cotton Club. His song “Minnie the Moocher” sold over a million records.
In June 1819, a listing appeared in the Matchett City Directory: “Johnson, Joshua, portrait painter, St. Paul’s Lane near Centre St.” He was known for painting multi-figure group portraits, uncommon at the time. His body of surviving work includes more than 80 paintings. His mother was an unidentified enslaved woman; his white father George Johnson purchased Joshua at the age of 19 and freed him in 1782. The justice of the peace who signed Johnson’s manumission document, Colonel John Moale, offered him a commission to paint a portrait of his wife and granddaughter, Mrs. John Moale and Her Granddaughter, Ellin North Moale, ca. 1800.
Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange
Born Elizabeth Clarissa Lange in Santiago de Cuba in or around 1794, Mother Lange immigrated to Baltimore in the early 1800s. Her mission of educating African American children led to the establishment of Saint Frances Academy in 1828; the academy is the oldest continuously operating black Catholic school in the country. Mother Lange was also the founder of the Oblate Sisters of Providence in 1829, the first Catholic order composed of women of African descent.
Thurgood Marshall stands tall among the most influential Americans of the 20th century. Marshall is best known as the lead counsel for the landmark school desegregation case, Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and as the first African American U.S. Supreme Court Justice.
After being denied admission into the University of Maryland Law School because of his race, Marshall attended historically black Howard University in Washington, DC. This set the stage for Marshall to fight for the civil rights of African Americans, handling cases that dismantled racial discrimination in the areas of education, housing, and voting rights. Marshall’s life, and his life’s work, began in Baltimore—it is the city where he was born in 1908, where he began his public education, and where he won his first civil rights cases as a young attorney. Marshall died at the age of 85 in 1993.
Baltimore’s Black Mayors
In January 1987, Clarence “Du” Burns became the first African American mayor of Baltimore. He took over as mayor when William Donald Schaefer resigned after being elected as Maryland governor. Burns held the position for ten months before the November 1987 election.
In the 1987 election, Burns ran for mayor against State’s Attorney Kurt L. Schmoke, losing in a close race. Schmoke became the first elected African American mayor. Schmoke was elected to three terms and served until the end of 1999. During his tenure, Schmoke initiated numerous programs to improve public housing, encourage economic development, and promote adult literacy. In 1989, he was awarded the National Literacy Award by President George H. W. Bush.
In 2007, Sheila Dixon became the first African American woman elected mayor. After Dixon’s resignation in 2010, City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake became the city’s fourth African American mayor. Rawlings-Blake was elected mayor in 2011.
Henrietta Lacks and Vivien Thomas
Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Hospital is considered one of the best research hospitals in the nation. Numerous African Americans have been associated with the hospital and have made significant contributions to the field of medicine.
Henrietta Lacks was 31 when she died in 1951 from cervical cancer. Cells removed from her body, without her consent, were used to form the HeLa cell line. This cell line has been extensively used in medical research to better understand and develop treatments for a wide range of diseases. Lacks has been posthumously recognized for her contributions to medicine and science and was inducted into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame in 2014.
Vivien Thomas, an innovator and respected teacher in the field of surgery, supervised a research laboratory at Johns Hopkins Hospital from 1941 to 1979. Along with Dr. Alfred Blalock and Dr. Helen Taussig, Thomas developed a procedure that alleviated a congenital heart defect known as Blue