Homing Pigeon Cages in Upton

Picture of a blue house for birds behind an old fence. There's a safety cone on top. In the foreground are brick steps leading to a brick landing.

The weather is all wrong these days. Ordinarily we get a warm day or two in February, like sweet cherries to tide us over until spring actually comes–which can be as late as May. But this February has been up and down in extremes I don’t remember. Wednesday’s extreme was 70 degrees and humid, 20 degrees above normal, and now on Thursday, it’s 30 degrees and ice is in the forecast. It is a rollercoaster.

Fortunately, my bike ride and walking tour were scheduled for the warm day. I hopped on my bike, overdressed as always, and biked down the hill, around, and back up to Marble Hill to meet folks at the Lillie Carroll Jackson museum for a walking tour. It was gray and humid, and my body was viscerally back in New Orleans. I love how the feel of the air on my face while riding my bike can take me so many places, immediately.

I pulled up on Eutaw Street where Johns from Baltimore Heritage had already snagged the pole in front of the museum for his bike, so I locked up around the corner. I was there just to take the tour from Johs and learn about the history of the Civil Rights movement in this neighborhood, along with some students from Edmondson Westside High School, the director of the Lillie Carroll Jackson museum, and a few other tour-guides-in-training. I’ve done lots of tours with adults, but this was my first with young people. My quick report? The Youth are just as likely to dilly dally as the Elders.

The tour itself was such a treat. We walked less than a mile and heard over an hour of stories about the beginning of so many movements that changed the whole world, starting right here in the Upton neighborhood of Baltimore. We learned about Jackson and her youth organizing, about the origin of Buy Where You Can Work campaigns, the birth of the Afro newspaper, and the work of organizers like Thurgood Marshall, Juanita Jackson Mitchell, Clarence Mitchell, and many others. We learned about the work churches did–and continue to do–in the neighborhood as organizing and mutual aid spaces. We learned about the history of segregation and racial discrimination, but more about how organizing happened here, and how that organizing changed the world.

I snapped this picture of a pigeon house set back from one of the streets we walked on. What I love about walking tours as opposed to just learning from books is that you get a sense of the place-ness of the place where things happened. And you see that history is not over. People are still here, raising their pigeons, setting up tables outside the AME Church to hand out food, doing a terrible job parking (this took our collective attention for a minute), and organizing–to turn Marshall’s old school into a legal clinic for the neighborhood.

And the racism is still here, too. Stopped on a corner, a driver rolled down their truck window to show us their MAGA hat and show “IT’S NOT TRUE” at the top of their lungs. No idea how they knew what we were doing, or what they thought we were doing, but the intent was clear–they wanted to drench us with their white supremacy until the light turned green. So much cowardice, ignorance, cruelty, and uselessness.

Our tour guide asked us how Lillie Carroll Jackson would have responded, and students talked about raising awareness, tweeting, maybe a letter to the Afro. Organizing has a history, but it can’t be and isn’t left there.

And then the kids went in for a tour of the museum and pizza, the guides had a little check in, and I was on my bike, pedaling as hard as I could back home to make my next meeting. It’s a longer ride than it needs to be because that part of West Baltimore is cut off from the center of the city by I83. That’s another walking or biking tour, because in a car you might think it’s just convenient to have the freeway there. You can’t see what the scar has left in its wake.

I have a lot of learning to do before I’m ready to lead the tour, but I’m excited to do that work and have these conversations. Much gratitude to the teachers, researchers, and students who make this stuff happen.

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