Editorial and photos supplied by Lisa Challenger, Executive Director of Beach to Bay Heritage Area
The history of the African American experience on the lower Eastern Shore of Maryland, spanning close to three and a half centuries, consists of a complex fabric of fact and oral traditions tied to numerous sites scattered across the rural and urban landscapes of Somerset, Worcester and Wicomico Counties.
Our African American heritage includes people of local, state and national prominence. The Beach to Bay Heritage Area has taken the lead in promoting the lower shore’s heritage and hopes to offer a glimpse of the wide variety of roles blacks have had here on shore and to showcase a number of sites and people that have shaped our past.
Many of the sites are a living symbol of the history of the African American experience
in this region.
Just a few steps from the Ocean City boardwalk lies a very unassuming building on South Baltimore Avenue across from Trimper Ride. This building, known as Henry’s Hotel, and formerly as Henry’s Colored Hotel, remains one of the oldest buildings in the city. Henry’s Hotel is one of the last surviving hotels that served black visitors to the resort at a time when access was severely restricted. It is reported that famous black entertainers performing in the pier ballroom stayed here. Entertainers such as Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Louis Armstrong to name a few. The hotel remains under black ownership today.
Travelling a few miles west of Ocean City on Trappe Road lies the Germantown School. In 1923, this two-room school was erected on the property by the Rosenwald Foundation Rural School Building Program, with matching funds donated by the local community. The school provided education for children in grades one through seven and the school remained in active use until 1962.
Years later, the Board of Education sold the building to the County Highway Association for $1. Former students and community members regained control of the building in 2002, and revitalized it. By 2013, the renovation of the building was completed and it is now used as a museum and community heritage center.
Traveling into downtown Berlin, it is hard to miss the large Mural on Commerce Street, also known as Tindley Way. In the summer of 2022, community members partnered with several non-profit organizations to create this mural, a larger-than-life portrait of a man who is arguably the most famous native son of Berlin. The Reverend Dr. Charles Albert Tindley, born in 1851, overcame poverty and slavery to become one of the most influential writers of gospel music, penning the Civil Rights anthem, “We Shall Over-come,” and the song “Stand By Me.” Five of over forty of his hymns appear in the revised Methodist hymnals used worldwide, and he is recognized as “The Godfather of Gospel Music.”
To get a more in-depth view of Tindley’s life head to the Calvin B Taylor House Museum on North Main Street in Berlin. Here, you’ll find not only an exhibit of his life and accomplishments but you can listen to podcasts of Tindley’s views and recollections by voice actor Gregory Purnell.
Maryland Folk Festival September
Tindley Festival October
Many other sites are worth a trip including:
Sturgis One Room School Museum, Pocomoke City
San Domingo School, Sharptown
Henry’s Beach, Dames Quarters
Church Street Mural & Black History Walking Tour, Salisbury
Crisfield Civil Rights Protests Interpretive Marker, Crisfield
Chipman Cultural Center, Salisbury
Oaksville Ball Park, Oaksville
Judy Johnson Memorial, Snow Hill
Corporal Isaiah Fassett Civil
War Marker, Berlin
Lynching Memorial Marker, Salisbury
Edward H. Nabb Research Center, Salisbury University