African-Americans have, for over 350 years, comprised a significant portion of the population of the state of Maryland, our county, and the city of Annapolis.
The state of Maryland and all of Anne Arundel County owe much to the rich heritage, culture, and bravery shown by African-American Marylanders. From Frederick Douglass to Thurgood Marshall, Maryland’s African-American history has played an integral role in the civil rights movement and the state as a whole.
During colonial times, the labor of both slaves and free African Americans was the cornerstone upon which Maryland’s tobacco and maritime economies were built. Maryland outlawed slavery in 1864 (one year before the 13th Amendment was signed by Congress), and by the turn of the nineteenth century, was home to more free African Americans than any other state.
A Few Maryland Figures
Harriet Tubman – Born in Maryland in 1820, Tubman worked tirelessly in Dorchester and Caroline counties to usher slaves to the safety of the slavery-free states of the north.
Frederick Douglass – Born in Talbot County, MD in 1818, Douglass was an author, abolitionist, social reformer and the first African American to hold a high U.S. government rank.
Benjamin Banneker – Born a free man in Baltimore County in 1731, Banneker was an author, farmer, naturalist, and surveyor. He was largely self-taught in all his expertise. He once wrote, “The colour of the skin is in no way connected with strength of the mind or intellectual powers.”
Matthew Henson – Born in Nenjemoy, MD in 1866, Henson was the first African American to explore the Arctic– an endeavor that spanned 18 years and six expeditions with partner Robert Peary.
Thurgood Marshall – Born in Baltimore, MD in 1908, Thurgood Marshall played a major role in ending legal segregation and later became the first African American to serve as a Supreme Court Justice.
Annapolis: a microcosm of Maryland African-American Heritage
Annapolis is a microcosm of Maryland African-American heritage. From the role of African Americans in the city’s thriving maritime traditions or the milestone civil rights laws passed on the steps of the Maryland State House, Annapolis’ African Americans have long played a vital role in shaping our state capital.
Preserving African Americans' place in Annapolis History
Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Memorial
Built in 2002 and located at City Dock set against the Annapolis Harbor, the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Memorial is an Annapolis staple. Celebrating the author’s 1976 book Roots: The Saga of an American Family and its main character Kunta Kinte—who arrived in Annapolis as a slave in 1767 – the memorial depicts Haley reading to a small group of children at the very place where Kunta Kinte first landed in Maryland.
African-American history walking tour
Join one of Watermark’s walking tours during Black History Month. Click here for more information and to book a tour today. The tour leads visitors through historic sites throughout downtown Annapolis, including important African-American history locations like the Thurgood Marshall Memorial and Kinta Kunte-Alex-Haley Memorial.
Check out the Banneker-Douglass Museum. Named after Marylanders Benjamin Banneker and Frederick Douglass, the museum highlights the innovations, resilience, and achievements of African-American Marylanders including Matthew Henson, the first African-American Arctic explorer; and Herbert Milton Frisby, a Maryland-born soldier stationed in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska during WWII. Once a Methodist Church, the museum showcases various Marylanders in rotating exhibits, offering a different history lesson each time visitors enter.
Thurgood Marshall Memorial
The Thurgood Marshall Memorial (located on the public square in the center of Lawyers Mall, also known as State House Square, outside the entrance of Maryland State House in downtown Annapolis) is dedicated to the first African-American Supreme Court justice, one of the great figures in civil rights history. The memorial consists of a group of bronze figures, including an eight-foot bronze statue of Justice Marshall as a young lawyer, positioned on a granite pedestal and presiding over two children seated on a nearby granite bench.
Historic Annapolis Foundation
Annapolis’ leading historical preservation organization, The Historic Annapolis Foundation, has held their exhibit, "Freedom Bound: Runaways of the Chesapeake,” since 2013, telling the stories of nine servants and slaves who tried to escape from forced servitude between 1728 and 1864.
Through “Freedom Bound,” visitors meet people who were treated as property and discover how they resisted that condition and asserted some degree of control over their lives and circumstances. Each of the displays represents an actual individual’s story, but each also tells part of a larger experience shared by thousands of bound workers—indentured servants, slaves, and convict servants—who lived and labored in the Chesapeake region. “Freedom Bound” is located on the 2nd and 3rd floors of the Historic Annapolis Museum and Store at 99 Main Street and in the nearby Waterfront Warehouse at 4 Pinkney Street.
Historic London Town and Gardens
Historic London Town was founded in 1693 as a port of call for merchant ships traversing the South River, and a hub for the slave trade during the 1730s. On site, you can visit a replicated colonial settlement, an interactive Visitor Center with artifacts uncovered from the site, and the original 18th-centurty “Brown House.” Part of the Four Rivers Heritage Area, this fascinating site combines history, archaeology, and horticulture. Walk through a historical house from 1760. Glimpse an active, ongoing archaeological investigation in search of the "lost town" of London. Roam an eight-acre Woodland Garden on a one-mile trail bursting with native plants and exotic species. The seasonal Ornamental Gardens overlook the South River, a magnificent sight.
Maritime Villages of Southern Anne Arundel County (known to locals as South County)
Aside from plantations, African-American slaves found themselves working in the maritime industry when they were brought to America. A number of these villages (including Herrington Harbour, Historic Town of Galesville, and the Capt. Salem Avery House Museum have been preserved in South County, offering visitors the chance to visit these historic locations and experience what life was like for 18th-century watermen.
Want to make a day out of touring the historic sites in South County? Download our Roots & Tides Driving Tours app. This interactive app leads you through Southern Anne Arundel County, bringing to your fingertips some of the most historic sites in the area.
Check below with some of our partners to find great tours, historical sites and landmarks, as well as resources you can use to discover Annapolis and Anne Arundel County’s deep African-American history and heritage.
Featured Partnersview full directory
Kunta Kinte Foundation Inc.
The Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Foundation supports development initiatives for the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Memorial located at the City Dock in A...
Maryland State House
The State House is open to the public every day from 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m., except Christmas and New Years Day. To help make your visit to t...
Annapolis Maritime Museum
The Annapolis Maritime Museum features the Buchanan Bay Room Gallery that provides a wonderful waterfront venue for art shows curated by the...
As the State of Maryland’s official museum of African American heritage, the Banneker-Douglass Museum serves to document, to interpret, an...
Captain Avery Museum
The Museum is the circa 1859 historic waterman's home of Captain Salem Avery and his family. This National Historic Landmark is where we col...
Galesville Heritage Society
Galesville Heritage Society, Inc. operates the Galesville Heritage Museum, in the Carrie Weedon House at 988 Main Street. The Museum is open...
Historic London Town & Gardens
Experience history, archeology and horticulture at this 23 acre county park. Reconstruction of colonial buildings from the "lost town" of Lo...
Four Rivers - Heritage Area of Annapolis, London Town & South County
Four Rivers: The Heritage Area of Annapolis, London Town & South County offers an extraordinary wealth of historic, cultural, and natural re...