Cambridge’s untold history: Up Pine and beyond

ESNC leaders tour Cambridge days before official 50th anniversary reflection on civil unrest

CAMBRIDGE — On a hot, hot day, Dion Banks and Kisha Petticolas, African-American leaders of the Eastern Shore Network for Change, led a 1.3-mile walking tour of Cambridge. A stroll down High, Pine, Cedar, Race and Poplar streets highlights sites significant to black culture, history, and the years that led to Cambridge’s riot during the Long Hot Summer of 1967.

The tour is titled, “Pine Street Walking Tour: A Story of Community, Faith, Hope, and Change; Cambridge, Maryland.”

This past Thursday, television news media advised the public to stay inside because of dangerously hot weather, but Mr. Banks and Ms. Petticolas led an informative tour, and marched through the heat.

The time for commemoration has come. This coming Thursday begins the four-day event, Reflections on Pine 1967 — 2017: Cambridge commemorates civil rights, community and change.

A short walking tour of the city highlights the African-American community, and some dramatic changes through the years. With 14 stops clustered closely together, the walk begins at Long Wharf Park, then heads down High Street toward the Dorchester County Courthouse.

Long Wharf, once a bustling deep water port on the Choptank River, was often where the journey of slaves on the Eastern Shore started or ended. Sometimes slaves were sold directly from ships to Eastern Shore masters. Just down High on the courthouse lawn, the old slave auction block remains as a constant reminder of the city’s past. Once sold, a slave would soon make the short trek to the wharf, and board a vessel bound for the deep South.

Dorchester Banner/Bob Zimberoff
From left, Kisha Petticolas and Dion Banks, founders of the Eastern Shore Network for Change, point toward the old slave auction block on Thursday, July 13. Behind Mr. Banks is the portion of the courthouse which was damaged by a bomb in 1970. The bombing occurred before the trial of H. Rap Brown, who was indicted on arson and
inciting to riot charges in Cambridge in 1967. Ms. Petticolas and Mr. Banks stand on a portion of High Street in the City of Cambridge that was mostly off limits to African Americans before the Civil War and during the years of the Jim Crow South.

The old courthouse — which was destroyed by a fire and rebuilt in 1854 — is where Harriet Tubman secured the freedom of three of her relatives. In 1850, The Underground Railroad conductor’s niece, Kessiah Bowley, and her two children escaped before being sold on the auction block.

On Thursday, Ms. Petticolas and Mr. Banks caught their breath on a sidewalk on High Street. Overlooking the courthouse and slave auction block, Ms. Petticolas shared even more history on High from the years of segregation.

“A lot of African-American women worked at Clayton’s as crab pickers,” Ms. Petticolas said. Clayton’s is on Cambridge Creek, not far from the courthouse.

“That was the only reason they could be caught walking on High Street. They were going to or from work. There was an understanding. If you were on this street at some other time, you probably were going to have a problem.”

Mr. Banks agreed. “It was based on the time of day,” Mr. Banks said. “You knew in the morning they were going to work, and you knew what time they were going back.”

Dorchester Banner/Bob Zimberoff
Dion Banks gestures toward High Street on a hot Thursday evening at the corner of High and Pine in Cambridge. Mr. Banks said in the 40s, 50s and 60s, a bustling black residential community met a thriving black business district at this corner.

From High Street, the tour turns up Pine, and highlights Waugh Chapel United Methodist Church. At the corner of High and Pine, Mr. Banks explained the layout of the neighborhood in the 1960s, and some details about the civil rights movement. He said, looking south down High, was a row of teachers’ homes in a community that worked at the segregated Mace’s Lane High School. A number of other wealthy black home owners also lived on High.

“High Street was nothing but black homes all the way down this street,” Mr. Banks said. Pointing up Pine, he said. “This is where black Wall Street started to happen. This was the business and entertainment district.”

Parallel to Pine runs Race Street, where the white downtown business district also grew. “Pine Street became the African-American version of Race Street,” Mr. Banks said. “Think of Pine Street in the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s. There was something called ‘The Green Book’ that was published by African-Americans for African-Americans who traveled the United States. It told you where you could eat, told you where you could sleep, the best roads to take during the day and during the night.

“In the book, Pine Street was the go-to spot for African-Americans all up and down the East Coast, the Eastern Shore, Western Shore, Virginia, Delaware, New York.”

For decades, black businesses — including a hotel, general stores, a laundromat, a barber, auto mechanic, attorney, and many others — thrived on Pine Street.

The pamphlet which accompanies the tour reads, “In the first half of the 20th century, Pine Street in Cambridge pulsed to the music of the world’s greatest jazz and blues musicians. The neighborhood was then a stop on the ‘Chitlin’ Circuit’ — the network of nightclubs and theaters traveled by African-American performers during the days of segregation.”

Following years of civil unrest that came with the decline of the once giant Phillips Packing Company, the center of the Pine Street scene, and the Pine Street School, burned to the ground on July 24, 1967. On that day in 1967, H. Rap Brown, a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, made a fiery speech in Cambridge. As tensions flared, and a riot raged, the historic Pine Street School caught fire the night of July 24. Eventually, a significant portion of the Pine Street business community burned to the ground.

Dorchester Banner/Bob Zimberoff
Kisha Petticolas and Dion Banks visit the site of the Pine Street School, and the only wall that remains of the old building after it was devastated by a fire during the riot in July 1967.

The fire also consumed the Dorchester Elks Lodge #223, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.

The tour pamphlet reads, “… the Elks Lodge, has been an anchor in the African-American community for nearly a century. The lodge was a part of the ‘Chitlin’ Circuit,’ … it was considered safe for African-American entertainers to perform. During civil unrest and the historic fires that destroyed several blocks of the heart of the African-American community in 1967, the original Elks Lodge was destroyed by fire. They were one of very few who rebuilt shortly after the fire.”

The Elks are now a major contributor to this weekend’s commemoration. “The Elks have been a huge supporter of Reflections on Pine. They were the first ones to donate and they have given us a total of $16,000,” Ms. Petticolas said in front of the rebuilt lodge. “We are beyond thankful to them for supporting this, and allowing us to tell this story to a broader audience at a very important time.”

After stops at the site of the old Pine Street School, the scene of the fire, and Bethel AME Church, the tour turns at Cedar Street and Pine, near where H. Rap made his speech and the riot began. The riot was one of more than 150 race riots across the U.S. during the Long Hot Summer of ‘67. After a short jaunt on Cedar Street, the tour turns on Race and heads toward Poplar Street. With just a few more relevant highlights along Race, the final stop is at Dizzyland.

Dorchester Banner/Bob Zimberoff
This building at the corner of Race and Gay streets in Cambridge once housed Dizzyland. Dizzyland was a segregated restaurant where sit-ins and protests were staged in the 1960s. The National Guard was deployed in Cambridge in July 1963 following a rise in racial tensions and a brutal dispute at Dizzyland.

On Dizzyland, a draft of the pamphlet reads, “In response to continued segregation in the 1960s, African-Americans in Cambridge waged a sit-in at the Dizzyland Restaurant. Race Street marked one of the dividing points between African-Americans and others in Cambridge, and the Dizzyland Restaurant continued its policy of refusing service to African-Americans even as other establishments abandoned segregation. …On July 10, 1963, a brutal dispute took place as protesters and counter-protesters and police clashed outside the Dizzyland restaurant.”

On a steamy Thursday evening at the end of the tour, Ms. Petticolas and Mr. Banks reflected on the hot days of the ‘60s in Cambridge, segregation, the civil rights movement, the riot and fire. Heading back down High Street, toward Long Wharf Park — a walk that would have been off limits to their ancestors — the two again passed the Dorchester County Courthouse, the old slave auction block, and the site of the bombing that proceeded H. Rap Brown’s 1970 trial for arson and inciting to riot charges in Cambridge.

“This tour is documenting an untold story. This history is not anywhere in print, collectively or together, anywhere else,” Mr. Banks said. Along with the tour, the events of this weekend’s Reflections on Pine are, “an opportunity for us to get in front of people’s perceptions of who we are and what happened here. Not only is this what happened, but we’re progressively moving forward. We’re growing. … A lot of times, the fire and civil rights movement defines us as a city. It shouldn’t define us as a city, however, the stories are important enough to be told.”

To learn more about Reflections on Pine and this weekend’s events, visit reflectionsonpine.org. To learn more about ESNC, visit www.esnccambridgemd.com.

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