Mapping Black-owned Businesses in Charm City

February 22, 2021
IMA Research Team

By Safania Romas

The History of Black History Month

February is African American History Month in the United States, in which the historically underrepresented achievements of African Americans are celebrated. Black History Month was founded in November 1915, half a century after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United States. It was created by a Harvard-trained historian, Carter G. Woodson. While earning his Master’s Degree from the University of Chicago and Ph.D. from Harvard, both in History, Woodson witnessed how underrepresented African Americans were in the books and conversations that shaped the study of American History. He co-founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History with a friend, Jesse E. Morland. The organization, now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, promotes studying Black History and celebrates African Americans’ achievements.

Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard-trained historian, founded Black History Month with a friend, Jesse E. Morland.

Baltimore City

About an hour from Washington D.C., the port city of Baltimore, Maryland has a rich African American history. With a population today of 61% African Americans, Baltimore is and was home to some well-known public figures. The first African American Supreme Court Judge, Thurgood Marshall, was born in Baltimore in 1908. Former U.S. Congressman and Civil Rights Activist Elijah E. Cummings named Baltimore his hometown. Baltimore City was once home to abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass, who was an escaped slave turned activist promoting the end of slavery. You can visit the Reginald F. Lewis Museum to learn more about his work.

Baltimore City in 1865, extracted from Martenet’s Map of Maryland from the Library of Congress.

The Great Migration

Baltimore’s draw to African Americans relates to its geography in a variety of ways. Maryland, though a southern slave state before and during the Civil War, never left the union, and it was an important stop on the Underground Railroad, which facilitated the escape of slaves from the deep South to safety in the North or Canada. Baltimore is also located on a fall line and was, therefore, home to a variety of industries like textiles and manufacturing. Baltimore was such a successful industrial city because of its port located in the deep waters of the Chesapeake Bay, which made it a shipping powerhouse, a status Baltimore works hard to maintain.

More than six million African Americans migrated from the southern United States to the northern United States during the early twentieth century in what is known as the Great Migration. African Americans left their homes to escape racism and seek better opportunities in the industrial cities, of which Baltimore was then a prominent member. If you’re interested in learning more about the Great Migration, check out the ‘further readings’ section below.

An African American family on their way north from Florida. Their destination may have been Baltimore City. Photo from the Baltimore Magazine.

Baltimore’s Black-owned Businesses

Today, African Americans own about 47% of Baltimore’s small businesses. African American business owners have long faced discrimination in accessing loans, which is just one example of the United States’ broader systemic racism problem, which others have discussed recently and extensively. In looking at lending specifically, see Forbes’s “Why Minorities Have So Much Troubles Accessing Small Business Loans” which describes the racism and discrimination faced by minorities, and especially African Americans, in detail.

The Covid-19 global pandemic forced local Black-owned businesses in Baltimore to shut down in April 2020. Even when lockdown orders lifted, many businesses struggled to bring back customers to the stores. To celebrate Black History Month, International Mapping is highlighting some of the Black-owned businesses in Baltimore. Using a variety of sources, we have gathered the locations of 200+ businesses. Businesses are sorted based on their categories. Please scroll down to check them out.

For a full screen version of the map, click here.

Beyond Black History Month

International Mapping feels a deep connection to Baltimore. Our office is located in Ellicott City, a short drive from downtown Baltimore, a commute some of us know well. All of our cartographers, researchers, and GIS professionals went to UMBC, which lies just outside Baltimore. Many of us took classes on the history of Baltimore, or studied the trees of Baltimore, or used Baltimore housing availability for GIS projects. For more on our work in Baltimore check out our ‘Visualizing Baltimore City’s Trees’ blog post.

If you have a favorite Black-owned business in Baltimore that didn’t make it onto our list, please fill out this form! We will continue to grow the project and support local Black-owned businesses. For more information about the data sources used in this story map, please visit the following articles below.

Further Reading Editors. “Black History Month,”, A&E Television Networks, January 14, 2010. 

Zorthian, Julia. “Black History Month: How It Started and Why It’s in February,” Time, January 29, 2016. 

Cassie, Ron. “The Great Migration,” Baltimore Magazine, February 1, 2021. 

Tuck, Ashlee. “100+ Black-Owned Restaurants You Need to Visit in Baltimore,” WILL DRINK FOR TRAVEL, February 1, 2021. 

Turner, Tatyana. “Amid Pandemic, Baltimore’s Black-Owned Businesses Struggle – but Some Are Finding New Support,” Baltimore Sun, August 7, 2020. 

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