On Saturday April 28, I took a bus tour in Prince George’s County, Maryland (just east of Washington, D.C.) sponsored by the Prince George’s African American Museum and Cultural Center (PGAAMCC), of North Brentwood, MD. The tour was entitled “A Space Of Their Own – A Celebration of Prince George’s Historic Black Townships – North Brentwood, Eagle Harbor, Fairmount Heights, Glenarden.”
Like thousands throughout the country, many suburbs near Washington, DC. were racially segregated until the Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibited discrimination concerning the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin. Until then, few suburbs existed with ready access to Washington by rail, streetcar or trolley where black residents could buy or build homes and get “a space of their own.”
Our tour visited three of these black townships. First was North Brentwood. Brentwood was all white—a “sundown suburb,” in the words of James W. Loewen, author of Sundown Towns(towns, suburbs and developments where blacks were not allowed after sundown). Residents of North Brentwood were not allowed to enter Brentwood, especially after dark. Pictured above is the steel guardrail and ditch that separates historically white Brentwood, MD from historically black North Brentwood.
In 1924 North Brentwood became the first incorporated majority black municipality in the county. The B&O railroad and the Columbia and Maryland Railway provided access to the city. Black residents began building homes in Fairmount Heights, Maryland, in 1903, which was not incorporated until 1935. Glenarden was the fourth incorporated African American municipality in the county. Both were served by trolley lines to the city. The tour also visited a recreational community for African Americans on the Patuxent River in the southern end of the county called Eagle Harbor, which was incorporated in 1929. Local historians guided us through each town.
On Thursday May 17 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., the PGAAMCC Book Club will discuss Sundown Towns by James W. Loewen. See my blog post “James W. Loewen at Busboys & Poets.” This book changed my view of our country. It was part of the inspiration for Well Considered and continues to be an inspiration for my new novel (in progress), which is set in a sundown suburb of Cleveland.
Mr. Loewen will speak at the museum on Saturday May 19. For more information, call the museum at 301-209-0592