As I prepare for my “We Still Here!” Walk to Freedom from Harpers Ferry to Gettysburg, I discovered several websites describing Black Heritage Trails in this small pocket of Western Virginia and Western Maryland, features not typically found in many cities or towns. Although, this is changing due to racial reckoning events over the past few years. During my walk from Selma, Alabama to Memphis, Tennessee, I recall being impressed by the on-the-street historical documentation of the Civil Rights Movement in some of the major cities I walked through. I thought the South was ahead of the North in highlighting the Civil Rights movement and other major events related to Black historic life as public attractions. Things you don’t generally see as often in the North.
In some places like Richmond, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and New York City, Black Heritage Trails exist but finding them is a challenge. Published tour guide books, I’d like to say, which used to overlook Black Heritage have changed and now include some Black history. Although many gaps still exist, and older tour guide publications with no documentation of Black heritage continue to remain on library shelves for many years, change is beginning to be found.
Putting up “appropriate” historical markers on public walkways takes a bit longer to realize. Thus the identification of historic African American landmarks frequently lack public attention. While you may find a historic marker in one location it may not be connect you to a related marker in another neighbor. And, sometimes they are removed by developers as neighborhoods undergo gentrification.
Again, as a result of racial reckoning since the horrific murder of George Floyd by police on a street in Minneapolis, the virtual appearance of Black Heritage Trails is becoming more readily available.
The Black community’s “life story [in Hapers Ferry] is representative of the struggles and successes African Americans experienced after the Civil War and through the Reconstruction period, as the lives of blacks and whites intertwined in new ways,” according to the Harpers Ferry-Bolivar Historic Town Foundation.
This heritage trail map describes some of those businesses and homes, many of which are now privately owned residences, still standing.
Here are links to Black Heritage Trails in Frederick and Hagerstown, Maryland.
Frederick, African American Walking Tour map
Hagerstown, Underground Railroad brochure