Braille Monitor                         May 2021

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A Virtual Welcome to Maryland

by Chris Danielsen, Sherria Young-Smith, and Dezman Jackson

Chris DanielsenThe National Federation of the Blind of Maryland is pleased to welcome our fellow Federationists from anywhere and everywhere to our state, albeit virtually, for the 2021 Convention of the National Federation of the Blind. We are excited about the opportunity to show off Maryland, which is sometimes called “Little America,” because, although it is one of the smallest states in our nation in terms of population and area, it is also one of the oldest and has a great deal of geographic, demographic, and historic diversity. We thought we would tell you a little about it.

Maryland’s geographical features range from sandy dunes dotted with seagrass in the east, to low marshlands teeming with wildlife near the Chesapeake Bay, to gently rolling hills of oak forests in the Piedmont (or foothills) region, and pine groves in the mountains of the western part of the state. The Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the United States, nearly bisects the state, and the counties from the east of the bay to the Atlantic Ocean are known collectively as the Eastern Shore. When Marylanders have plans to vacation in the popular Eastern Shore beach resort of Ocean City, they like to say they are going “down the ocean.” The Patapsco River empties into the Chesapeake Bay at Baltimore, forming the city’s famous Inner Harbor, from which everything from pleasure craft to freighters to cruise ships depart.

Like the rest of our nation, Maryland was first home to Native Americans, specifically a mix of Iroquoian and Algonquian peoples. When the English began to colonize America, King Charles I granted Cecilius Calvert, Second Baron Baltimore, a royal charter in 1632. Officially, Maryland Colony was said to be named for Henrietta Maria, King Charles’s queen, although the devout Calvert may have in fact named it for the mother of Jesus. Calvert was a Catholic and wanted Maryland to be a haven for those who shared his faith, since they were often persecuted in their homeland after the establishment of the Church of England. As it turned out, however, Catholics remained a minority, although a very significant one, and tensions between Catholics and Protestants, which sometimes escalated into violent conflict, were a feature of Maryland politics until anti-Catholic laws were officially abolished. Maryland’s first settlement was St. Mary’s City, now an archaeological site, and its capital was established at Annapolis in 1695.

A notable Marylander from its early history was William Paca, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Paca was born in Abingdon, Maryland, on October 31, 1740. After serving in the Continental Congress, Paca went on to become the state’s governor and a delegate to the 1788 convention in which Maryland became the seventh state to ratify the United States constitution. A major downtown street in Baltimore bears his name.

Maryland played a significant role in the Revolutionary War. In particular, a militia regiment known as the Maryland 400 bravely covered General George Washington’s retreat at the Battle of Long Island in 1776, allowing the remainder of his forces to get safely back to Manhattan. Washington later thanked the soldiers of the “Old Line” for their bravery, thus giving Maryland one of its nicknames, the Old Line State. Maryland further distinguished itself during the War of 1812, when the valiant defense of Fort McHenry against a British naval bombardment inspired Francis Scott Key, an American prisoner aboard one of the British ships, to write his poem “The Star-Spangled Banner.” This patriotic verse was later set to the tune of an English pub song, and in 1931 Congress designated the combined words and music as the national anthem of the United States.

Because of its favorable geographic situation on the Chesapeake Bay, with easy access to the waterways and tributaries that feed it, Maryland, along with its largest city, Baltimore, thrived. In 1828, construction began on the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) canal, which threatened Baltimore’s trade supremacy. In response, city leaders obtained a charter from the Maryland General Assembly to build a railroad from Baltimore westward, and in 1830 the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad, which has since become familiar to generations of Monopoly players, opened its first section of track to the historic Maryland town of Ellicott City. The B&O was the first chartered railroad in the United States, reached the western end of the state at Cumberland eight years before the C&O Canal did, and ultimately became the first railroad to reach the Ohio River from the eastern seaboard. Eighteen other railroad lines were built from Baltimore by the middle of the nineteenth century, amplifying the city’s importance as an industrial center. Today the B&O Railroad Museum is an extremely popular and respected Baltimore historical institution, and the city remains an important freight railroad hub and major stop on Amtrak’s northeast corridor.

From its early days, Maryland was dependent on the growth of tobacco, and plantations were worked by enslaved people and indentured servants. After the Revolutionary War, many, but not all, plantation owners freed their enslaved workers, making Maryland the state with the most free Blacks in the country. Harriet Tubman was born an enslaved woman on a plantation in Dorchester County, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, in 1822. Archaeologists are currently trying to locate the site of the cabin where this extraordinary freedom fighter originally lived. After escaping her own enslavement in 1849, Tubman became a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad. From 1850 to 1860, she made an estimated thirteen trips and rescued around seventy enslaved people, including many members of her family. She also provided many others with information and resources to help them travel north to freedom. For her efforts, she earned the nickname Moses, after the Biblical figure who led the Israelites out of enslavement in Egypt. The 2018 film Harriet, widely available with audio description, is a good summary of her life and work, although some elements are fictionalized for dramatic purposes.

Strong abolitionist sentiment in some parts of the state, as well as its high population of free Blacks, made Maryland officially a Union state during the American Civil War, although many Marylanders went south to fight with the Confederate Army and anti-Union sentiment led to bloody riots in Baltimore in the early part of 1861, the first official bloodshed of the conflict. One of the Civil War’s bloodiest battles, known as the Battle of Antietam, was fought in Maryland, and although it was technically a draw, turned the tide of the war in the Union’s favor after early Confederate victories. We cannot mention Civil War history without speaking of Clarissa Harlowe “Clara” Barton, a nurse from Montgomery County, Maryland, who founded the American Red Cross.

Dezman JacksonAfter the Civil War, Democrats ultimately re-established power and implemented Jim Crow laws, but Maryland Blacks were arguably somewhat better off than those further south because many had been free and acquired their own land before the conflict. The state, and particularly Baltimore because of its industry, also attracted many immigrants, and it was difficult to craft laws that disenfranchised Blacks without harming immigrant communities as well. As a result, the denial of voting rights common in the south was not common in Maryland. Meanwhile, Baltimore continued to thrive as industry increased and philanthropists like Johns Hopkins and Enoch Pratt helped to establish it as a center of learning and culture. Johns Hopkins University is internationally well known for its medical school and hospital, and the Enoch Pratt Free Library system is well respected throughout the nation. The Pratt Library’s former executive director, Dr. Carla Hayden, is the current librarian of Congress.

Throughout the remainder of the nineteenth and the early twentieth century, Maryland established itself as a prosperous industrial center. This was particularly true in Baltimore, where major manufacturing concerns like Bethlehem Steel built or acquired factories. The city’s blocks and blocks of row houses, built as homes for its many industrial workers, are a standing legacy to this period. Baltimore did suffer a major setback in 1904, when a fire burned for more than thirty hours, destroying 1,526 buildings, and spanning seventy city blocks. More than 1,200 firefighters from Baltimore and beyond worked to bring the blaze, later dubbed the Great Baltimore Fire, under control. With the nation’s entry into World War I in 1917, military facilities like Fort Meade and the Aberdeen Proving Ground were established, and existing ones like Fort McHenry were expanded. Maryland’s refusal to pass laws enforcing prohibition gained it the nickname “the Free State” in the 1920s, a designation coined by the editor of the Baltimore Sun and amplified by its most famous columnist, H. L. Mencken. Baltimore was also a major military production center in World War II.

In the postwar years, the character of the state began to change with the gradual suburban expansion of the Washington, DC, area and the construction of the interstate highway system, as well as the decline of Baltimore’s factories. While Baltimore’s struggles continue as it transitions from an industrial city to one more in line with today’s economy, the state remains prosperous overall, with major universities like Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland, historically Black colleges and universities like Morgan State, federal agencies and military installations, and new businesses driving its culture and economy.

Maryland has had and continues to have an outside influence on our nation in the areas of culture, sports, and politics, with many famous names coming from or living in the state. One of America’s greatest jazz singers, Billie Holiday, grew up in Baltimore, and the late rapper Tupac Shakur attended art school there. Notable women who hail from Maryland include current Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (born Nancy D’Alessandro in Baltimore’s Little Italy neighborhood), prolific Silver-Spring-based bestselling novelist Nora Roberts, and multiple Grammy-award-winning singer Toni Braxton (originally from Anne Arundel County.) Athletes include multiple Olympic gold-medal swimmer Michael Phelps, world-champion figure skater Kimmie Meisner, and of course, the Baltimore Orioles’ famous “Iron Man,” Cal Ripken Jr., known among other things for his record-breaking string of consecutive games played.

For the foodies among our coming virtual visitors, we can’t forget about Maryland’s famous blue crabs, which of course are key ingredients in Maryland crab cakes and Maryland crab soup. You may know that oysters and other seafood delicacies are also harvested from Maryland waters by the state’s many watermen—a term that is still used although they are, of course, not all men. What you may not know is that Maryland is also the birthplace of the cold, tasty treats known as snowballs, which paved the way for similar summer refreshments. Surely, during convention, many of you will be enjoying them or one of their derivatives. We hope that this brief article has given you a flavor (see what we did there?) of our state. Now you can visit us with a good appetite, some knowledge for any trivia contests we might dream up, and a better appreciation for how “Little America” has shaped the entire nation.

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