Pennsylvania Avenue: Where black arts and entertainment celebrated in Baltimore

BALTIMORE – In the early to mid-20th century, Pennsylvania Avenue was the Broadway of old West Baltimore.

People came from all over the country to celebrate black arts and entertainment.

“Whether it was Louis Armstrong, whether it was the temptations, whether it was the miracles, whether it was Patti LaBelle, all these people played at the Royal Theater,” said Baltimore’s James Hamlin.

Hamlin grew up in Baltimore and owns Avenue Bakery on Pennsylvania Avenue.

He said if you wanted to make it in showbiz back then, the Royal Theater was where you had to do your best.

“If you didn’t do well at the Royal Theater in Baltimore, you wouldn’t make it in the entertainment business,” Hamlin said.

The Chitlin’ Circuit was a black theater circuit.

It was a group of venues in the United States that allowed black artists to perform during the segregation era.

“In New York, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Washington, DC, Chicago, and even some parts of Boston, African American entertainers found places owned and operated by African Americans where they could actually express their art form, without the Jim Crow look . said Dr. Ida Jones, a historian from Baltimore.

Pennsylvania Avenue used to be the center of black entertainment.

That changed in 1968 when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

“Riots took place in cities across the country, and it happened right here on Pennsylvania Avenue,” Hamlin said. “The problem is that someone made the decision that Pennsylvania is not worth revitalizing. It has been abandoned and really neglected for over 50 years.”

Since then, Pennsylvania Avenue hasn’t looked the same as it used to.

“When you’re talking about crime and what’s going on, you’re talking about culture,” Hamlin said. “We have to change the culture. To change culture, we must educate our people about our history and heritage. We need to change this environment in which our young people live. You have no idea how you live in the country’s most storied African American community. They have no sense of history and therefore lack the sense of pride and dignity that we grew up with here.”