Since the 10th millennium BC, the Baltimore region has been inhabited by Indigenous peoples. Prior to Baltimore becoming a city, the Piscataway tribe of Algonquians occupied the area. English colonizers settled in Baltimore in the 17th century, leading to the establishment of the County of Baltimore in 1659. The Maryland General Assembly founded the Town of Baltimore in 1729. During the 18th century, Baltimore started filling in marshes, built wharves and slips for trade of tobacco and other raw materials. From its earliest days, African Americans played an important role in Baltimore's history, with many forcibly brought to the area as slaves.

In the early days of Baltimore, its economy was heavily reliant on the tobacco trade and shipping of other raw materials. The city was a major player in the trade, leading to its growth and development. The role of African Americans in this growth cannot be understated, as many were forced to work in harsh conditions on tobacco plantations. However, even as they were subjected to oppression, African Americans in Baltimore have a rich history of culture and activism that has influenced the city to this day. From the influential writings of Frederick Douglass to the legacy of musicians like Billie Holiday and Eubie Blake, Black Americans have had an enormous impact on Baltimore's culture, history, and identity.


Pre-colonial era and Indigenous People

The Baltimore area has been inhabited by Native Americans since at least the 10th millennium BC, when Paleo-Indians first settled in the region. One Paleo-Indian site and several Archaic period and Woodland period archaeological sites have been identified in Baltimore, including four from the Late Woodland period. During the Late Woodland period, the archaeological culture that is called the "Potomac Creek complex" resided in the area from Baltimore to the Rappahannock River in Virginia.

Prior to the establishment of Baltimore as a city, the Piscataway tribe of Algonquians inhabited the Baltimore area. In 1608, Captain John Smith traveled 170 miles fromJamestown to the upper Chesapeake Bay, leading the first European expedition to the Patapsco River, named after the native Algonquians who fished shellfish and hunted. The name "Patapsco" is derived from pota-psk-ut, which translates to "backwater" or "tide covered with froth" in Algonquian dialect. Soon after John Smith's voyage, English colonists began to settle in Maryland. The English were initially frightened by the Piscataway because of their body paint and war regalia, even though they were a peaceful tribe. The chief of the Piscataway tribe was quick to grant the English permission to settle within Piscataway territory and cordial relations were established between the English and the Piscataway.


Colonial era

The County of Baltimore, was "erected" established around 1659 in the records of the General Assembly of Maryland among one of the earliest divisions of the Maryland Colony into counties, when a warrant was issued to be served by the "Sheriff of Baltimore County." The area constituting the modern City of Baltimore and its metropolitan area was first settled by David Jones in 1661, his claim covering in the area known today as Harbor East on the east bank of the Jones Falls river, which flows south into Baltimore's Inner Harbor.  The following year, shipwright Charles Gorsuch settled Whetstone Point, the present location of Fort McHenry.

In 1665, the west side of the Jones Falls on the Inner Harbor was settled when 550 acres of land, thereafter named Cole's Harbor, was granted to Thomas Cole and later sold to David Jones in 1679. Old Saint Paul's Parish of Baltimore County ((one of "Original Thirty" parishes designated for the Colony - included the county of Baltimore and future Baltimore Town - the "established" or "state" Church of England - also known as "Anglican")) was the first church built in the metro area, erected along the nearby Colgate Creek on the "Patapsco Neck" peninsula in southeastern Baltimore County which flowed into the Patapsco River (present site of today's Dundalk, Maryland Marine Terminal of the Port of Baltimore) in 1692. Jones's stepson James Todd resurveyed Cole's Harbor in 1696. The tract was renamed Todd's Range, which was then sold off in progressively smaller parcels, thereby forming the land that would become the Town of Baltimore thirty years later.

J. B. Homann's c. 1715 map of Virginia, Carolina, Maryland, and New Jersey; considered one of the most important and decorative maps of is region to appear in the 18th century.Maryland's colonial General Assembly created and authorized the Port of Baltimore in 1706 at the Head of the Northwest Branch of the Patapsco River in what was later known as "The Basin" (today's "Inner Harbor") and later expanded east and southeast down-river to what later was called Fells Point to the east near the mouth of the Jones Falls and further in the 19th Century to what became known as Canton. The port was named after Lord Baltimore George Calvert (16XX-16XX) to whom King Charles I of England had granted the title in 1632, named after his wife, Queen Henrietta Marie, (the first unsuccessful attempt was "Avalon" in Newfoundland off the eastern Canada coast). Also around the "Basin" to the southeast along the southern peninsula which ended at "Whetstone Point" and is today South BaltimoreFederal Hill, and Locust Point, wharves and slips were built by individual wealthy ship-owners and brokers and some by the public authorities through the town commissioners through the means of lotteries, for the tobacco trade and shipping of other raw materials overseas to the Mother Country and building a wharf to receive manufactured goods from England and trade with other ports being established up and down the Chesapeake Bay and the other burgeoning colonies along the Atlantic coast.

The Town of Baltimore was established by the Maryland General Assembly in 1729. Unlike many other towns established around that time, Baltimore was more than just existence on paper. German immigrants began to settle along the Chesapeake Bay by 1723, living in the Baltimore area. The General Assembly enlarged Baltimore Town in 1745 and incorporated David Jones's original settlement known as Jones Town. Baltimore sent representatives to the Assembly, and over the next two decades it acquired nine parcels of land and annexed neighboring villages including Fells Point to become an important and substantial community on the Head of the Patapsco River. As the Town grew, increasing numbers of German Lutheran immigrants established Zion Church in 1755, and later also a German Reformed congregation was organized as the first among the Protestants to be represented which also attracted more of these "Pennsylvania Dutch" settlers to the region. Early German settlers also later established the German Society of Maryland in 1783 in order to foster the German language and German culture in Baltimore.

Throughout the 18th Century, Baltimore drained and filled in marshes (notably Thomas "Harrison's Marsh" along the Jones Falls west bank), built canals around the falls and through the center of town, built bridges across the Falls and annexed neighboring Jones's Town to the northeast and expanded southeastward towards the neighboring, bustling, shipbuilding port at Fells Point and merged with it by 17XX. It became by far the largest city in the Middle Atlantic colonies between Philadelphia and Charleston, South Carolina. A political deal by the increasingly powerful financial interests in the growing town and with the rapidly growing population, was reached and the county seat with its important center of a courthouse for all Baltimore County was moved from Old Joppa over its citizens enraged protests, and the Baltimoreans paid some 300 pounds sterling the next year to erect a fine brick courthouse with a bell tower and steeple on a Courthouse Square (future Calvert Street, between East Lexington and Fayettes Streets) along with the necessary "whipping post", "stocks" (for confining heads and arms), podium for making public announcements and news, and a nearby jail to confine miscaltreats, on the northern hills overlooking the harbor basin and with its back sitting over a rugged cliff and bluffs to the northeast with "Steiger's Meadow" bordering the twisting loop of the Jones Falls which bended southwestward before running north again.

American Revolution

During the American Revolution, the Second Continental Congress temporarily fled from Philadelphia and held sessions in Baltimore for a few weeks in December 1776 to February 1777. When the Continental Congress authorized the privateering of British vessels, eager Baltimore merchants accepted the challenge, and as the war progressed, the shipbuilding industry expanded and boomed. There was no major military action near the city though, except for the passing nearby and a feint towards the town by the British Royal Navy fleet as they headed north up the Chesapeake Bay to land an army at Head of Elk in the northeast corner to march on the American capital at Philadelphia and the subsequent battles at Brandywine and Germantowne of theg.

The American Revolution stimulated the domestic market for wheat and iron ore, and in Baltimore flour milling increased along the Jones and Gwynns Falls. Iron ore transport greatly boosted the local economy. The British naval blockade hurt Baltimore's shipping, but also freed merchants and traders from British debts, which along with the capture of British merchant vessels furthered Baltimore's economic growth. By 1800 Baltimore had become one of the major cities of the new republic.

The economic foundations laid down between 1763 and 1776 were vital to the even greater expansion seen during the Revolutionary War. Though still lagging behind Philadelphia, Baltimore merchants and entrepreneurs produced an expanding commercial community with family businesses and partnerships proliferating in shipping, the flour-milling and grain business, and the indentured servant traffic. International trade focused on four areas: Britain, Southern Europe, the West Indies, and the North American coastal towns. Credit was the essence of the system and a virtual chain of indebtedness meant that bills remained long unpaid and little cash was used among overseas correspondents, merchant wholesalers, and retail customers. Bills of exchange were used extensively, often circulating as currency. Frequent crises of credit, and the wars with France kept prices and markets in constant flux, but men such as William Lux and the Christie brothers produced a maturing economy and a thriving metropolis by the 1770s.

The population reached 14,000 in 1790, but the decade was a rough one for the city. The Bank of England's suspension of specie payments caused the network of Atlantic credit to unravel, leading to a mild recession. The Quasi-War with France in 1798-1800 caused major disruptions to Baltimore's trade in the Caribbean. Finally, a yellow fever epidemic diverted ships from the port, while much of the urban population fled into the countryside. The downturn widened to include every social class and area of economic activity. In response the business community diversified away from an economy based heavily on foreign trad




19th century

Population growth

Year 1790 1800 1810 1820 1830 1840 1850 1860 1870 1880 1890
Population 14,000 27,000 47,000 63,000 81,000 102,000 169,000 212,000 267,000 332,000 434,000

A beautiful example of S. A. Mitchell Jr.’s 1864 map Baltimore, Maryland. Offers wonderful detail at the street level including references to the important buildings, trains, canals, and roads. Colored coded with pastels according to city wards. Surrounded by the attractive floral border common to Mitchell atlases between 1860 and 1865. One of the more attractive atlas maps of Baltimore to appear in the mid 19th century. Prepared by S. A Mitchell Jr. for inclusion as plate 25 in the 1864 issue of Mitchell’s New General Atlas . Dated and copyrighted, “Entered according to Act of Congress in the Year 1860 by S. Augustus Mitchell Jr. in the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of the U.S. for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Source: Wikimedia Commons, Public DomainBaltimore grew rapidly, becoming the largest city in the American South. It dominated the American flour trade after 1800 due to the milling technology of Oliver Evans, the introduction of steam power in processing, and the merchant-millers' development of drying processes which greatly retarded spoilage. Still, by 1830 New York City's competition was felt keenly, and Baltimoreans were hard-pressed to match the merchantability standards despite more rigorous inspection controls than earlier, nor could they match the greater financial resources of their northern rivals.

African Americans have been an essential part of Baltimore's history since the city's establishment by English colonists in the 17th century. During this period, many African Americans were brought to Baltimore as slaves to work on tobacco farms and other plantations. By the 18th century, Baltimore had become a center for the slave trade, and many enslaved Africans were forced to work in the city's growing industries, including shipbuilding and manufacturing.

Despite their oppressive conditions, enslaved Africans in Baltimore fought for their freedom through various means, such as rebellion and escape. In 1802, a group of enslaved African Americans in Baltimore staged a revolt that was eventually suppressed by the authorities. However, the spirit of resistance continued to grow, and the city became a hub for the Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes and safe houses that helped slaves escape to freedom.

The end of slavery in Maryland came in 1864 with the adoption of the state's new constitution. The 13th Amendment to the US Constitution, which abolished slavery nationwide, was ratified the following year.


Alexander Brown (1764–1834), a Protestant immigrant from Ireland, came to the city in 1800 and set up a linen business with his sons. Soon the firm Alex. Brown & Sons moved into cotton and, to a lesser extent, shipping. Brown's sons opened branches in Liverpool, Philadelphia, and New York.

The firm was an enthusiastic supporter of the B&O Railroad By 1850 it was the leading foreign exchange house in the United States. Brown was a business innovator who observed social conditions carefully and was a transition figure to the era after 1819 when cash and short credits became the norms of business relations. By concentrating his capital in small-risk ventures and acquiring ships and Bank of the United States stock during the Panic of 1819, he came to monopolize Baltimore's shipping trade with Liverpool by 1822. Brown next expanded into packet ships, extended his lines to Philadelphia, and began financing Baltimore importers, specializing in merchant banking from the late 1820s to his death in 1834. The emergence of a money economy and the growth of the Anglo-American cotton trade allowed him to escape Baltimore's declining position in trans-Atlantic trade. His most important innovation was the drawing up of his own bills of exchange.

By 1830 his company rivaled the Bank of the United States in the American foreign exchange markets, and the transition from the 'traditional' to the 'modern' merchant was nearly complete. It became the nation's first investment banking. It was sold in 1997, but the name lives on as Deutsche Bank Alex. Brown, a division of the Germany's Deutsche Bank.


Frederick Douglass

Portrait of Frederick Douglass taken in the 1840sFrederick Douglass was a prominent Black American abolitionist who escaped slavery and settled in Baltimore in the 1830s. He became an influential orator and writer, publishing his first autobiography, "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave," in 1845, which helped to fuel the abolitionist movement.

Born into slavery in 1818 in Talbot County, Maryland, Douglass was sent to Baltimore in the 1820s to work as a servant. While in Baltimore, he learned to read and write, and eventually escaped slavery in 1838. After his escape, Douglass settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he became involved in the abolitionist movement and began speaking publicly about his experiences as a slave. In the years that followed, he became one of the most famous and respected abolitionists in the United States, publishing several autobiographies and delivering countless speeches on the evils of slavery and the need for its abolition.


Peabody and Philanthropy

George Peabody rose from humble beginnings to become one of the nation's most powerful businessmen. Based in Baltimore, Peabody developed an extensive network of financial and mercantile institutions that laid the groundwork for J. P. Morgan's financial empire. Peabody relocated to London in 1837 and later helped install the first transatlantictelegraph cables. During the 1860s, Peabody began his celebrated philanthropic career, endowing libraries and museums and aiding the poor on both sides of the Atlantic.

He founded the Peabody Institute which included a library, an academy of music, and an art gallery and which, he hoped, would aid the moral and intellectual development of the citizenry. Peabody's legacy inspired Andrew Carnegie and other captains of industry to offer some of their wealth to serve the public good.



Baltimore faced economic stagnation unless it opened routes to the western states, as New York had done with the Erie Canal in 1820. In 1827, twenty-five merchants and bankers studied the best means of restoring "that portion of the Western trade which has recently been diverted from it by the introduction of steam navigation." Their answer was to build a railroad—one of the first commercial lines in the world. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) became the first chartered railroad in the United States; twenty thousand investors purchased $5 million in stock to import the rolling stock and build the line. It was a commercial and financial success, and invented many new managerial methods that became standard practice in railroading and modern business. The B&O became the first company to operate a locomotive built in America, with the Tom Thumb in 1829. It built the first passenger and freight station (Mount Clare in 1829) and was the first railroad that earned passenger revenues (December 1829), and published a timetable (May 23, 1830). On December 24, 1852, it became the first rail line to reach the Ohio River from the eastern seaboard. The railroad was merged into CSX in 1987.

Following the B&O's start of regular operations in 1830, other railroads were built in the city. In the early 1830s the Baltimore and Port Deposit Rail Road began running trains in the Canton area, and later in the decade it reached Havre de Grace.Also in the 1830s, The Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad operated trains initially to Owings Mills, and later into Pennsylvania. Both lines were later controlled by the Pennsylvania Railroad. In the mid-1850s the Western Maryland Railway began constructing a line to Westminster and points west, reaching Hagerstown in 1872.



Baltimore in the Third Party System had two-party competitive elections, with powerful bosses, carefully orchestrated political violence, and an emerging working-class consciousness at the polls. The fierce politics of the 1850s had galvanized the white workers, most of them German, who opposed slavery. The American Party emerged in the mid-1850s to represent Protestants and to counter the Democratic Party, which was increasingly controlled by Catholic Irish. When Baltimore erupted in violence at the time of President Abraham Lincoln's 1861 inauguration, for example, the pro-Union "Blood Tubs" that took to the streets were veterans of political rioting. The nativist American (Know-Nothing) Party captured the Baltimore government in 1854. The party used patronage and, especially, coercion; its armed forces scared off Democratic voters and forced drunks and immigrants to vote multiple times. Voters elected a congressman and governor nominated by the party during its short life. In 1860 the Democrat-controlled legislature took back the city police, the militia, patronage, and the electoral machinery, and prosecuted some Know-Nothings for electoral fraud. By 1861 the Know-Nothings had split over secession.


The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad was a network of secret routes and safe houses used by enslaved African Americans to escape to freedom in the 19th century. Baltimore was a key location for the Underground Railroad, with its proximity to the Mason-Dixon line and the Chesapeake Bay making it an important stopping point for those traveling north.

The Underground Railroad was active in Baltimore from the early to mid-1800s, with a variety of individuals and organizations involved in the effort. These included prominent figures such as Frederick Douglass, who escaped from slavery in Baltimore in 1838, and Harriet Tubman, who frequently traveled through the city while leading enslaved people to freedom. Other individuals involved in the Underground Railroad in Baltimore included free African Americans, white abolitionists, and sympathetic Quakers. While the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 made it more difficult for people to escape, the Underground Railroad continued to operate in Baltimore and other locations until the end of the Civil War in 1865.


Civil War

Baltimore was torn by the Civil War. Much of the social and political elite favored the Confederacy—and indeed owned house slaves. In the 1860 election the city's large German element voted not for Lincoln but for Southern Democrat John C. Breckinridge. They were less concerned with the abolition of slavery, an issue emphasized by Republicans, and much more with nativism, temperance, and religious beliefs, associated with the Know-Nothing Party and strongly opposed by the Democrats. However the Germans hated slavery and supported the Union.

When Massachusetts troops marched through the city on April 19, 1861, en route to Washington, D.C., a rebel mob attacked; 4 soldiers and 12 rioters were dead, and 36 soldiers and uncounted rioters had been injured. Governor Thomas Hicks realized action was needed. He convened a special session of the General Assembly but moved its location to a site in Frederick, a distance from the secessionist groups. In doing this and by other actions, Hicks managed to neutralize the General Assembly to avoid Maryland's secession from the Union, becoming a hero in the eyes of the Unionists in the state. Meanwhile pro-Confederate gangs burned the bridges connecting Baltimore and Washington to the North, and cut the telegraph lines. Lincoln sent in federal troops under Gen. Ben Butler; they seized the city, imposed martial law, and arrested leading Confederate spokesmen. The prisoners were later released and the rail lines reopened, making Baltimore a major Union base during the war.


Progressive Era

Population growth and decline

Year 1900 1910 1920 1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2007
Population 509,000 558,000 734,000 805,000 859,000 950,000 939,000 906,000 787,000 736,000 651,000 637,000

Political reform began in 1895 with the defeat of the Arthur Gorman-Isaac Freeman Rasin Democratic machine. The Great Baltimore Fire of 1904 destroyed 70 blocks and 1,526 buildings in the downtown, and led to systematic urban renewal programs.

Learn more about the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904.


Baltimore was a poorly managed city in 1890, despite its economic vitality. Already Boston, Chicago, and New York were moving to modernize their public works infrastructures and to support the construction of capital-intensive, technologically sophisticated sewer and water supply systems. Baltimore lagged behind the other American metropolises because of its culture of privatism and the politicization of its municipal administration. However, during the 1890-1920 period the city responded to the same concerns as Chicago, New York, and Boston. The increase in urban crises, particularly the 1904 fire and the deterioration of sanitary conditions, prompted demands for reform. Moreover, the municipal administration underwent a process of moralization and professionalization in the 20th century. Afterward, Baltimore modeled itself on the other American metropolises and chose to modernize its institutions and address the industrial and urban challenges of the era.

Eubie Blake

Eubie Blake was a renowned composer and pianist who was born and raised in Baltimore. He began his career in the early 1900s, playing in various venues and composing music for Broadway shows. He is best known for his song "I'm Just Wild About Harry" and for his contributions to the development of ragtime and early jazz music.

Eubie Blake was born in Baltimore in 1887. Although he began playing the piano as a child, Blake didn't begin his professional music career until the early 1900s, when he began performing in Baltimore's many saloons and nightclubs. In 1915, Blake met lyricist Noble Sissle, and the two went on to form a successful songwriting and performing duo. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Blake and Sissle became one of the most popular acts in the country, performing on Broadway and in numerous films and recordings. Despite facing discrimination and prejudice throughout his life, Blake remained a tireless advocate for black musicians and artists, and he continued to perform and compose music until his death in 1983 at the age of 96.


Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday, also known as "Lady Day," was a legendary jazz singer and songwriter who began her career in Baltimore in the 1930s. She performed in various clubs around the city and recorded several hit songs, including "God Bless the Child" and "Strange Fruit," which was a powerful protest song against lynching in the South.

Billie Holiday, one of the most iconic jazz singers of the 20th century, was born in Philadelphia in 1915 but spent much of her childhood in Baltimore. Holiday's mother moved the family to Baltimore in the early 1920s, and it was there that Holiday first discovered her love of singing. Despite her difficult upbringing, which included years of abuse and time spent in a Catholic reform school, Holiday pursued her passion for music and began performing in clubs and speakeasies in Baltimore and other cities. In the late 1930s, Holiday's career took off, and she became known for her distinctive voice and deeply emotional performances. 



When in 1918 the US government reversed its draft exemption for married workers and required all men to work in essential occupations or serve in the military, professional baseball players either enlisted or joined industrial baseball leagues. Company leagues included those of Bethlehem Steel, which had recreational leagues on both coasts that by 1918 represented a major-league level of competition. Sparrows Point, Maryland, a Bethlehem Steel company town, had a Steel League team, whose results Baltimore baseball fans followed closely. At the same time, fans also followed the draft status and 1918 season of Baltimore native Babe Ruth, then playing with the Boston Red Sox and considering his own options, including joining an industrial league team. In September Bethlehem Steel, fearing competition with other leagues over professional talent, disbanded the Steel League. When the war ended in November, players such as Ruth were free to re-sign with their major league teams.


Depression and War: 1929-1950

Argersinger (1988) describes the loss of power by traditional Democratic leaders and organizations in Baltimore under the New Deal. The old-line Democrats operated in the spirit of traditional political bosses who dispensed the patronage. They were, at best, lukewarm Roosevelt supporters because the New Deal threatened their monopoly on patronage. Blacks, other ethnic groups, labor, and other former supporters turned from their patrons to other leadership. Baltimore Mayor Howard W. Jackson's support gradually eroded until he was defeated in a gubernatorial primary election to choose an opponent for a Republican who earlier defeated Governor Albert C. Richie, a conservative Democrat.


World War II

Baltimore was a major war production center in World War II. The biggest operations were Bethlehem Steel's Fairfield Yard, on the southeastern edge of the harbor, which built Liberty ships; its work force peaked at 46,700 in late 1943. Even larger was Glenn Martin, an aircraft plant located 10 miles (16 km) northeast of downtown. By late 1943 about 150,000 to 200,000 migrant war workers had arrived. They were predominantly poor white southerners; most came from the hills of Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, South Carolina, and Tennessee. War mobilization brought federal pressure to unionize the work force, and by 1941 the leftist CIO had organized most of Baltimore's large industries, while the more conservative AFL also gained many new members. By 1945, labor unions and ethnics had taken over local politics and liberal mayors enjoyed black as well as white support. The machine was led by Italian Catholic politicians such as Nancy Pelosi's father, Thomas D'Alesandro, Jr., who was mayor in 1947-59; her brother, Thomas D'Alesandro III, was mayor from 1967 to 1971. Father John F. Cronin's early confrontations with Communists in the World War II-era labor movement turned him into a leading anti-Communist in the Catholic Church and the US government during the Cold War. Father Cronin, then a prominent Catholic parish priest, saw a united labor movement as central to his moderate, reformist vision for Baltimore's social ills, and worked closely with anti-Communist labor leaders.



Redlining is a practice that emerged in the 1930s and was used to systematically deny mortgages and other financial services to people living in certain neighborhoods based on race. In Baltimore, redlining was officially enforced by the Home Owners' Loan Corporation (HOLC) in the 1930s, and its effects can still be seen today. The HOLC rated neighborhoods on a scale from A to D based on their perceived level of risk for mortgage lending. Neighborhoods with a high percentage of Black residents were often given a low rating, and were deemed "hazardous" or "definitely declining," which effectively prevented residents from obtaining loans to purchase or repair homes.

One of the neighborhoods that was marked as "hazardous" was Sandtown-Winchester in West Baltimore. In the 1950s and 60s, the neighborhood was home to a vibrant Black middle class, but the lack of investment caused by redlining led to a sharp decline in the area's economic and social conditions. The neighborhood's vacancy rate soared and crime rates increased.


Urban Crisis: 1950-1990

In 1950, the city's population topped out at 950,000, of whom 24 percent were black. Then the white movement to the suburbs began in earnest, and the population inside the city limits steadily declined and became proportionately more black.


Integration of Baltimore city schools at first went smoothly, as city elites suppressed working class white complaints, which only sped up white flight to suburban schools. By the 1970s new problems had surfaced. White flight transformed formerly white schools into mostly black schools, though whites still made up most of the faculty and administration. Worse, the school system had become dependent on federal funding. In 1974, these circumstances led to two dramatic incidents. A teachers' strike highlighted the city's unwillingness to raise teachers' salaries because a hike in property taxes would further alienate white residents. A second crisis revolved around a federally mandated desegregation plan that also threatened to alienate the remaining white residents. The crises were caused by racism and federal policy.


Heroin usage in Baltimore reveals the explosive rise of illegal drug use in the United States in the 1960s. In the late 1940s there were only a few dozen African-American heroin addicts in the Pennsylvania Avenue area of the city. Heroin use began largely for reasons of prestige within a group that most middle-class blacks looked down on. When the Baltimore police formed the three-man narcotics squad in 1951 there was only moderate profit in drug dealing and shoplifting was the addict's crime of choice. By the late 1950s young whites were using the drug, and by 1960 there were over one thousand heroin addicts in the police files; this figure doubled in the 1960s. A generation of profiteering young, violent black dealers took over in the 1960s as violence increased and the price of heroin skyrocketed. Increasing drug usage was undoubtedly the primary reason for burglaries rising tenfold and robberies rising thirtyfold from 1950 to 1970. Soaring numbers of broken homes and Baltimore's declining economic status probably exacerbated the drug problem. Adolescents in suburban areas began using drugs in the late 1960s.

Civil rights

In the 1930s and 1940s the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the black churches, and the Afro-American weekly newspaper took charge of organizing and publicizing demonstrations. There was no rioting. In the late 1950s Martin Luther King and his national civil rights movement inspired black ministers in Baltimore to mobilize their communities in opposition to local discrimination. The churches were instrumental in keeping lines of communication open between the geographically and politically divided middle-class and poor blacks, a chasm that had widened since the end of World War II. Ministers formed a network across churches and denominations and did much of the face-to-face work of motivating people to organize and protest. In many cases they also adopted King's theology of justice and freedom and altered their preaching styles.

Baltimore was the site of an early civil rights sit-in—perhaps the nation's first. When a handful of black students entered Read's Drug Store for less than half an hour, it precipitated a wave of desegregation.


In the 1950s and 1960s, white Southern racial politics moved north into Baltimore and other cities. White Southerners came to Baltimore by the thousands during World War II, permanently altering the city's political landscape. Southern whites built on existing racial restrictions in Maryland to approximate the customary lines of demarcation further south. Working whites mobilized to prevent school integration after the Brown v. Board of Education decision of the Supreme Court in 1954. They believed that their interests were being sacrificed to those of black Americans. As working-class whites began to feel increasingly embattled in the face of federal intervention into local practices, many turned to the 1964 presidential primary campaign of George Wallace who swept the white working class vote. Durr (2003) explains the defection of white working-class voters in Baltimore to the Republican Party as being caused by their fears that the Democratic Party's desegregation policies posed a threat to their families, workplaces, and neighborhoods.

Between 1950 and 1990, Baltimore's population declined by more than 200,000. The center of gravity has shifted away from manufacturing and trade to service and knowledge industriesm, such as medicine and finance. Gentrification by well-educated newcomers has transformed the Harbor area into an upscale tourist destination..


Religious history

Roman Catholics

Baltimore has long been a major center of the Catholic Church. Important bishops include John Carroll (1735–1815, in office 1789-1815),Francis Kenrick (1796–1863, in office 1851-65), and especially Cardinal James Gibbons (1834—1921, in office 1877-1921).

In 1806-21 Catholics constructed the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, based on a neoclassical design by architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe. A $34-million restoration was based on Latrobe's original plans and was completed in 2006.

During 1948-61, the Archdiocese of Baltimore was under the leadership of Francis Patrick Keough. The Baltimore Church identified with the anti-Communist and antipornography movements and with the expansion of Catholic institutions that addressed a myriad of social, economic, and educational issues. The Church also coordinated a multitude of action projects under the financial control of the Baltimore chancery.



The Methodists were well received in Maryland in the 1760-1840 era, and Baltimore became an important center. Sutton (1998) looks at Methodist artisans and craftsmen, showing they embraced an evangelical identity, Protestant ethic, and complex organizational structure. This enabled them to express their anti-elitist or populist "producerist" values of self-discipline, honesty, frugality, and industry; they denounced greed, and sought an interdependent common good. Such producerist views drew on aspects of the Wesleyan ethic, appropriated the commonweal traditions of 18th-centuryrepublicanism, and initially resisted those of classical liberal, individualistic, self-interested capitalism. They also accorded well with and helped produce the emerging amalgam of American populist, restorationist, biblicistic, revivalistic activism that Sutton terms "Arminianized Calvinism."

Inside the Methodist Church the artisans were reformers who focused on three substantive and symbolic targets, each of which would democratize Methodist conferences: lay suffrage and representation; inclusion of the local preachers, who constituted two-thirds of Methodist leadership; and election of the officers who carried the administrative, personnel, and supervisory power, the presiding elders. The appeals made on behalf of these democratizations, Sutton shows, drew imaginatively on both producerist and Wesleyan rhetoric. By the 1850s, Sutton (1998) shows that the corporate ideals and individual disciplines of religious producerism were expressed in trade unionism, in evangelical missions to workers, in factory preaching, in workers' congregations, in temperance and Sabbatarianism, in the Sunday school movement, and in the politics of Protestant communal hegemony.


The Appalachians and southern whites arriving in the 1940s brought along a strong religious tradition with them. Southern Baptist churches multiplied during the mid and late 1940s.

Evangelical Lutherans

The Zion Evangelical Lutheran congregation was founded in 1755 in order to serve the needs of Lutheran immigrants from Germany, as well as Germans from Pennsylvania who moved to Baltimore. It has a bi-lingual congregation that provides sermons in both German and English. In 1762 the congregation built its first church on Fish Street (now East Saratoga Street). It was replaced by a bigger building, the current Zion Church on North Gay Street and East Lexington Street erected from 1807 to 1808. An addition to the west along Lexington Street to Holliday Street of an "Aldersaal" (parish house), bell tower, parsonage, and enclosed garden in North German Hanseatic architecture under Pastor Julius K. Hoffman was made in 1912-1913.



The story of the Patapsco Forest Reserve (later renamed the Patapsco Valley State Park) near Baltimore reveals notable connections between the Progressive-era movements for forest conservation and urban park planning. In 1903, the Patapsco Valley site, although outside the city boundary, was nevertheless identified by the Olmstead Brothers landscape architecture firm as an ideal site to acquire property for future park development.

At the same time, the Maryland State Board of Forestry, seeking to establish scientific forestry research, received donated land for this purpose in the Patapsco Valley. Over subsequent decades, a powerful alliance of urban elites, state managers, and city officials assembled thousands of acres along the Patapsco River. The site evolved into a unique hybrid of forest preserve and public park that reflected both its location on the urban fringe and its dual heritage in the conservation and parks movements.