About the Exhibition

In 1969, Senate Bill #185 established the Commission on Negro History and Culture “...to conduct a study of all proposals to create a better understanding and knowledge of Negro history and culture and...make a recommendation to the Governor...[regarding] the legislative enactments which would be necessary to carry out such proposals”. The creation of the Commission was initiated by Senator Verda F. Welcome and historian Dr. Benjamin Quarles, and it became the first ethnic commission in the country.

Fifty years later, the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture (MCAAHC), has surpassed the original instructive. MCAAHC’s current mission to discover, document, preserve, collect, and promote Maryland’s African American heritage is demonstrated through its commitment to education, advocacy and promotion, and preservation.

This exhibit showcases ephemera, photographs, archival documents, and artifacts to detail the history and impact of MCAAHC within the greater context of African American history. Doing the Work invites visitors to learn about the Commission’s impact on their local communities and consider their personal role in preserving Maryland’s African Amerian heritage.

1969-1979: Black Power to Black History

The 1970s marked the end of the Civil Rights Movement, the beginning of feminist movements, and the Black Museum Movement was gaining traction. Many African Americans viewed the “Negro Canon”, which valued art, history, and culture fueled by scholarship and activism, as a catalyst to create organizations to uplift Black History.

"The Final Report and Recommendations of the Maryland Commission on Negro History and Culture", 1971

The Maryland Commission on Negro History and Culture (later the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture) was established in 1969 to research the ways the State of Maryland could create a better understanding of Negro history and culture within the state.

(Image [left]: A 1969 brochure outlining the role and activities of the new Maryland Commission on Negro History and Culture)

Mt. Moriah AME Church in need of repairs ca. 1950s

Education, advocacy and promotion, and preservation became the pillars on which the Commission stood from its first preservation effort, saving Mt. Moriah AME Church from demolition to educating the public in its Afro-American Study Center in Baltimore, Maryland. The Commission began advocating for and promoting the legacies of historic Marylanders like Benjamin Banneker and collecting artifacts for its forthcoming museum.

Carroll Greene (first Director of the Banneker-Douglass Museum) photographed with the packaged Benjamin Banneker Memorial during it's installation, 1976

(Image [background]: A poster used in protest of the demolition of Mt. Moriah Church which reads "BLACK PEOPLE HAVE HISTORY TOO! SAVE MT. MORIAH", 1973)

Left: Wood directional sign for the MCAAHC's headquarters at 20 Dean St., Annapolis, MD; Right: Program booklet for the first AFRAM in 1976

The Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture’s (MCAAHC) first decade cemented the Commission as a catalyst for change and the beginning of a movement in the State of Maryland.

1979-1989: Museum on a Mission

The Black Museum Movement entered full swing as the 1980s began. In 1984, the Commission dedicated the Banneker-Douglass Museum on Afro-American Life and Culture (later the Banneker-Douglass Museum) in the newly preserved Mt. Moriah Church. The museum was one of over 200 African American history museums in operation during this time.

(Image [right]: The cover of the Spring 1982 edition of "The Pendulum")

With plenty of news to share, the Commission started publishing a quarterly newsletter called The Pendulum which detailed Commission events and contemporary scholarship on African American history to educate the public. Markers, celebrations, and recognition awards like those dedicated to Joshua Johnson and given to Rosa Parks and Alex Haley promoted the work of historic and contemporary African Americans.

Left: An unidentified man hanging a marker to honor Joshua Johnson, 1988; Right: Alex Haley presented with an award by the Commission, 1988
Members of the Annapolis Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. with their donation of a 30 volume collection of books from the "Schomburg Library of Black Women Authors" at the Banneker-Douglass Museum, 1988

Additions to the Banneker-Douglass Museum’s (BDM) collections like Nathaniel K. Gibbs’ portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and a collection of volumes on Black women authors preserved African American Marylander’s artistry, legacy, and scholarship. Annual celebrations of Kwanzaa and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday began during this decade.

Rosa Parks attending the first "Let Freedom Ring" concert, Maryland's official tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1988

In its second decade, MCAAHC expanded to include BDM and joined other museums across the country in the preservation, promotion, and education of Black history.

(Image [background]: "The Ghandi Reader" portrait by Nathaniel K. Gibbs, 1981 [1981.2.1])

1989-1999: Maintaining Momentum

From television and film to fashion and government, public displays of Black history and culture increased during the 1990s for a new generation that was removed from the Civil Rights Movement. Racial tensions were not over and there was still work to do. MCAAHC mirrored this moment by turning to youth education programs and exhibitions that would connect young Black Marylanders to their history and cultural traditions like quilting and doll making.

Visitors viewing a display of dolls in the "Yes, Sir, That's My Baby" exhibition, 1991

MCAAHC continued to advocate for, celebrate, and memorialize significant historic sites like the City Dock in Historic Annapolis, MD where the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Memorial was dedicated. The Commission developed resources listing African American heritage sites around the state and joined with local museums to establish the Consortium of African American Museums in Maryland (CAAMM).

(Image [left]: Unidentified children in the Banneker-Douglass Museum exhibition "Pass It On: The Art of African American Children's Literature", 1995)

The collections at BDM continued to grow as the museum remained underfunded and struggled to preserve the rich history it housed. Community members speculated that government officials were attempting to close the museum. The Commission and other stakeholders, however, were dedicated to keeping BDM open, mirroring nationwide efforts to maintain the growth of Black history and culture.

1999-2009: Inspiring Public Pride

Amidst nationwide economic turmoil and tragedy of the new millennium's first decade, the 2008 election of the first Black President of the United States, President Barrack H. Obama, gave generations of African Americans reason to celebrate. African American communities around the country found pride in their histories; and, the excitement reached all generations. The MCAAHC continued to focus on educating youth through programs like the youth summer camp hosted at BDM in 2000 and the 2002 “Statewide Teacher and Administrator Institute”.

Unidentified participants in the Statewide Teacher and Administrator Conference, 2002 (above and background images)

In 2003, MCAAHC hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for the expansion of the Banneker-Douglass Museum which would re-open in 2006 with permanent exhibition Deep Roots, Rising Waters: A Celebration of African Americans in Maryland.

Construction on the Banneker-Douglass Museum Expansion, 2004 (Copyright Bernstein Associates Photographers)

The MCAAHC continued to honor and promote the legacies of contemporary Black Marylanders like Sylvia Gaither Garrison, BDM’s first librarian and namesake of the BDM's Sylvia Gaither Garrison Library. The Commission worked with Archaeology in Annapolis to excavate four dig sites which unearthed a wealth of finds. The artifacts were displayed in a BDM exhibition entitled Seeking Liberty to preserve this scholarship.

A promotional postcard for BDM's "Seeking Liberty" exhibition, 2008-2009

(Image [left]: A photograph of Sylvia Gaither Garrison)

The MCAAHC experienced great growth during this time and continued to instill the public with pride in Maryland’s African American experience.

2009-2019: Connecting the Past and Future

Within the last decade, African Americans have seen many dreams materialize into reality; and, the MCAAHC connected a rich history to a blossoming present. In 2010, the African American Historic Preservation Program was established as an annual $1 million capital grant to identify and preserve buildings, communities, and sites of historical and cultural importance to the African American experience in Maryland. It was the first grant program of its kind. One hundred and six heritage sites have been awarded $8 million to date. (Click the button below for a map of the sites!)

Promotional post card for BDM's "The Douglass Reading Room" exhibition, 2018-2019

Exhibitions continue to educate the public on Black art and scholarship, including the 2018 Douglass Reading Room exhibition hosted at BDM in celebration of Frederick Douglass’ bicentennial year.

Signature events like the Kwanzaa celebration continue and new signature events like the Youth Conference begin as the MCAAHC advocates for and promotes Maryland’s African American heritage.

The MCAAHC celebrates its 50th Anniversary by remembering its legacy and challenging itself to continue to be a catalyst for change and monument to Maryland’s rich African American history through advocacy, education, and preservation.

Special thanks to the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture and the Banneker-Douglass Museum Foundation, Inc.!


Images from the MCAAHC Archives and Banneker-Douglass Museum Photographic Archives, Banneker-Douglass Museum, Annapolis, MD.