Baltimore News: Archiving Black Baltimore’s History, Crowded MD Hospitals, and New Benefits of Remote Work in Baltimore and DC

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This week’s Baltimore news includes: Preserving Black history in Baltimore, crankie creator Katherine Fahey reinvigorates a lost art, chaos in Baltimore area schools with both virtual and in-person learning due to COVID outbreaks, the Baltimore Police get even more funding, remote work creates connections between Baltimore and DC, and more reporting from The Real News Network, Baltimore, Baltimore Brew, and other local and independent news sources.



The Afro-American has been been documenting life in the Black community in Baltimore since the 1890s. Here, Dan Murphy (left) and John Murphy Jr. (right), sons of the newspaper's owners, work in the composing room in 1921. COURTESY THE AFRO AMERICAN NEWSPAPERS ARCHIVES

Meet the Woman Preserving 125 Years of Black History in Baltimore
by April White
Published January 6 in Atlas Obscura

Excerpt: For decades, the history of Baltimore’s Black community was filed away—somewhat chronologically, in banker’s boxes and bound volumes. It was stored with care, but without enough space or the expensive climate control measures to ensure long-term survival. This archive of the country’s longest-running Black family-owned newspaper—the Afro-American, which still publishes today—got its start as what’s known in the newspaper industry as a morgue, a resting place for reference files of newspaper clippings in the days before Google. Now Savannah Wood, the great-great granddaughter of the paper’s original owners, plans to bring life back to the collection of more than 125 years of fragile newsprint and irreplaceable photographs.

Atlas Obscura spoke with Wood about her family legacy, the future of the Afro-American’s past, and plans for a new home for the archive in West Baltimore.



The North Avenue headquarters of Baltimore City Schools, which announced on Sunday evening the list of schools to be taught virtually on Monday. (Mark Reutter)

Anger and anxiety after Baltimore makes abrupt shift to virtual learning for nearly 40% of schools
by Fern Shen
Published January 10 in Baltimore Brew

Excerpt: One week ago, City Schools officials stood with a group of top state lawmakers to declare that Baltimore schools are “some of the safest places for children” and to pointedly reject pleas from parents and the Baltimore Teachers Union that they postpone in-person learning for a few days following the winter break.

Today, nearly 40% of schools are starting the week in virtual mode due to widespread Covid-19 infections discovered since Thursday, when the District brought the school community back into buildings.

Yesterday afternoon, some parents had been getting messages from their children’s schools about the plan for Monday, but weren’t seeing anything official from Baltimore City Public Schools.

Finally, at about 7 p.m. last night, the news broke on the school system’s website: 57 schools were to transition the next day to temporary virtual learning.

That sent parents into a Sunday night scramble to arrange childcare and forced teachers to quickly pull together plans to teach their classes online.

See also:

Needlessly Chaotic: As Infections Surge, Baltimore Public Schools Dive Headfirst Into In-Person Learning Storm
by Lisa Snowden



Katherine Fahey with her "crankie" lightbox at her home studio in West Baltimore. —Christopher Myers

Crankies Artist Katherine Fahey Inspires Baltimore With the All-But-Lost Folk Art
by Lauren LaRocca
Published January 10 in Baltimore Magazine

Excerpt: When Katherine Fahey was in grade school, one assignment changed the course of her destiny. She was tasked with creating a papercutting, but instead of the usual hearts or snowflakes fifth-graders might make, she challenged herself to cut a panda bear in the middle of a bamboo patch.

The homework came at a time when Fahey was sick and had to stay home from school for a couple days. She remembers spending hours in bed, likely with a fever, slowly cutting by hand her intricate image.

“I go back to school and have this amazing papercut, and my teacher was like, ‘Wow,’” Fahey recalls. “I think that was the first time someone had said to me, ‘You’re an artist.’ People had known my drawing before that, but I remember that being the year when teachers started saying things to me like, ‘It’s okay you’re not good at science.’”

Suffice it to say, her papercuttings have become even more elaborate over the years. But it was the discovery of “crankies”—the 19th-century art form that combines storytelling and a hand-cranked scroll of illustrated images—that allowed her to integrate her work as a papercut artist, shadow puppeteer, and vocalist with her love of folk tales.

Crankies, in a word, became her niche—so much so that she’s now known as the Godmother of Baltimore Crankies, the Jane Appleseed of Crankies, or the Matron Saint of Crankies, depending on whom you ask, and her devotion to the all-but-lost art form has had a ripple effect on the Baltimore arts community.



Photo by Flicker user Austin Kirk)

Is the rise of remote work a chance to strengthen the DC-Baltimore corridor?
by Michaela Althouse
Published January 12 in Baltimore

Excerpt: Only about 40 miles stand between DC and Baltimore, but it’s long been known for residents of both cities that there’s a large distinction between the two.

As many companies commit to long-term remote work, though, leaders at equity-minded startup ecosystem builder UpSurge Baltimore think there’s a chance for the two cities to collaborate in the ashes of the IRL office space.

It’s a relationship that certainly already exists, with both cities exchanging workers every day among those who don’t mind a commute. Previously, UpSurge CEO Jamie McDonald even founded a Baltimore-based SaaS startup and sold it to a DC company (though she noted that’s not necessarily the goal of many Baltimore companies). But with the pandemic-induced remote work trend making many companies rethink location, there’s an opportunity, UpSurge’s leaders think, to grow the Baltimore-DC ecosystem even further.

DC, McDonald said, proved a natural jumping-off point for tech mafias and a startup ecosystem in the wake of locally headquartered internet giants like AOL (which later on boosted Revolution’s Steve Case) and Blackboard. Baltimore’s own growth reminds of those long-ago beginnings.

“DC is 10 or 15 years ahead of Baltimore in terms of their dedication to building a startup ecosystem,” McDonald told “That whole group of folks saw 15 years ago what we see in Baltimore today, in that it’s a place that’s got obviously a strong talent base, strong universities and a [potential] significant, large-scale startup right in its backyard.”



A nurse treats a patient with coronavirus in the intensive care unit at a hospital on May 1, 2020 in Leonardtown, Maryland. The coronavirus death toll in D.C., Virginia and Maryland surpassed 2,000 people on Friday as the District recorded its largest number of daily infections thus far. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Urgent Plea From Swamped Hospitals: Get Vaccinated, Don’t Misuse the ER
by Bruce DePuyt
Published January 11 in Maryland Matters

Excerpt: Maryland’s hospitals are nearly full, and staff are facing extreme burnout and illness, the state’s hospitals warned on Tuesday — and they begged unvaccinated residents to take action at once.

The blunt warning — issued by the Maryland Hospital Association — came as the state’s COVID-19 infection and hospitalization rates again hit all-time highs.

The wave of patients has forced more than a dozen facilities to shift to a rarely used operating mode known as “crisis standards of care.” That posture allows hospital managers to redeploy staff, discharge recovering patients more quickly, and change other protocols to meet the surging demand.

Almost all of the COVID-19 patients now flooding Maryland hospitals are unvaccinated or under-vaccinated, meaning their hospitalizations — in most cases — could have been prevented.

“Maryland hospitals and their dedicated caregivers have been saving lives from this deadly disease for two years,” said Bob Atlas, the association’s president and CEO in a statement. “We need your help as we suffer the worst surge of this crisis.”



A Baltimore City police helicopter flies over Camden Yards on April 15, 2021, in Baltimore, Maryland. All players are wearing the number 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson Day. Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Amid Omicron Surge, Baltimore Police Got Even More Money
by Brandon Soderberg
Published January 12 in The Real News Network

Excerpt: As the omicron variant surged into the new year, pushing statewide infection rates in Maryland past 30% and sending Baltimore City residents scrambling for COVID-19 tests and N95 masks, Baltimore City spent more money on the Baltimore Police Department.

On Dec. 23, Baltimore City’s Board Of Estimates approved $18 million for three new police helicopters. The three new helicopters will replace the four old helicopters purchased in 2011 for $9.5 million, Baltimore Brew reported.

It was the latest burst of additional funding since the Baltimore City Council voted to give the Baltimore Police a $28 million budget increase back in June 2021. In September, $6.5 million in revenue from red light cameras, supposedly allotted to make streets safer for motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians, was instead given to the police. In November, the city approved $759,500 to continue a contract with ShotSpotter, the AI-based sound detecting software that alerts 911 when it believes it has registered gunshots. The technology’s efficacy has been much-debated, and despite vocal opposition to the funding—including from activist DeRay Mckesson—it was approved.

“I am the biggest skeptic of ShotSpotter,” Mayor Brandon Scott said. “But saying that and also knowing that this is the final renewal for this contract and, as I have already directed CitiStat to do an in-depth analysis of this tool… This really, for me, is about getting to people who are the victims of gun violence who no one is calling for.”

Since 2018, the total amount of money spent by Baltimore on ShotSpotter is a little over $3 million.



Community members wave signs as passing cars honk their horns at a rally Monday outside of the Baltimore City Public Schools system’s headquarters, where rallygoers urged school officials to delay decisions on any school closures until the 2023-2024 school year. Photo by Marcus Dieterle.

Parents, teachers and advocates rally to delay school board’s vote on permanent school closures for two years
by Marcus Dieterle
Published January 11 in Baltimore Fishbowl

Excerpt: One month after graduating from University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Tiana Sanders got a phone call from her mother in West Virginia: she had fallen ill and was no longer able to care for Sanders’ then-8-year-old brother, Tyler. So, in July 2020, Sanders became her brother’s legal guardian and he came to live with her in Southwest Baltimore, where he started attending Steuart Hill Academic Academy.

“This was tumultuous for both of us,” Sanders said, “but in the interim, having access to main necessities within walking distance has made every day easier. Tyler feels agency and the freedom of knowing that his main resources in his school are in walking distance. With all of the personal trauma of leaving our mom and moving from West Virginia to Baltimore City, Steuart Hill has been a solid rock in the height of COVID.”

But that could change if the Baltimore City school board moves forward with recommendations to permanently close Steuart Hill along with two other elementary schools – Dr. Bernard Harris Sr. Elementary School in East Baltimore’s Oliver neighborhood, and Eutaw-Marshburn Elementary School in West Baltimore’s Madison Park neighborhood – in summer 2022. School officials also recommended the closure of New Era Academy, a high school in Cherry Hill in South Baltimore, in 2023.



HON marching in November 2020, demanding affordable housing and an end to homelessness. Credit: Sarah Y. Kim/WYPR

Baltimore City Council gets update on homeless services
by Sarah Y. Kim
Published January 12 in WYPR

Excerpt: Baltimore’s new director of homeless services met with city council members at a virtual public work session Tuesday, to discuss ongoing and future efforts to keep people safely sheltered and housed.

For much of the pandemic, the city has been using hotels to shelter the homeless where people can physically distance, in addition to existing congregate shelters.

Irene Agustin, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services (MOHS), commended city officials for setting up hotels, which she said many other cities have not yet done.

“But we can do better,” Agustin said. “And that ‘better’ means to connect people to safe affordable housing options within our community.”

She said her office is looking into a “phased approach” to eventually ending the use of Baltimore’s hotel shelters. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, has been reimbursing the city for the cost of the hotels, but those payments are set to expire in April.



Key issues are coming in to focus as the 2022 Maryland General Assembly is set to begin Wednesday. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines

Maryland General Assembly Set to Convene in Another Session Shaped by COVID
by Josh Kurtz and Bruce DePuyt
Published January 11 in Maryland Matters

Excerpt: The Maryland General Assembly gavels in for its regular 90-day session Wednesday, the third that will be shaped dramatically — procedurally and for policymaking — by the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the coronavirus isn’t the only element that brings uncertainty to this year’s proceedings.

Election-year sessions have unique dynamics of their own. On top of that, lawmakers will need to vote on a measure to redraw legislative district boundaries by late February — a topic near and dear to their hearts. And it’s the last legislative session for Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), who is term-limited and continuing to try to elevate his national political profile.

How the governor approaches the legislature is “the major variable” heading into the 2022 session, said Sen. James C. Rosapepe (D-Prince George’s), a senior member of the General Assembly who has served alongside five governors.

“Does he want to go out in a time of good feeling and cooperation, or does he want to continue to differentiate himself and try to help the Republicans in the general election,” he said. “We don’t know the answer to that. I frankly think it’s more likely than not that he’ll want to go out with good feelings — and I hope that’s the case.”

See also:

A Mixture of Hope and Solemnity as General Assembly Gets to Work
by Danielle E. Gaines
Published January 12 in Maryland Matters



SX train car in front of a pile of coal. Photo by Kyle Pompey

Opinion | CSX Explosion in Curtis Bay Should Alarm Baltimore City and Accelerate Real Change
by Nicole Fabricant
Published January 6 in The Real News Network

Excerpt: An explosion at the CSX facility—the second largest coal export pier on the East Coast—in South Baltimore on Dec. 30 is just the latest example of Baltimore City government working in lockstep with private industry and prioritizing their interests while sacrificing residents’ health and well-being.

The explosion occurred at the coal transfer tower of the CSX Curtis Bay Pier in Curtis Bay, but the effects of the explosion were felt all over the city of Baltimore. Windows exploded and glass shattered into the streets. Some residents described it as feeling like a “bomb”; others compared it to an “earthquake.” How many more public safety crises like this will it take for Baltimore City leaders to learn that we need worker-led and community-owned development now, and regulations with teeth?

With worker control, community ownership, and serious regulation, the residents of Curtis Bay would be prioritized over profits.



Header Image: courtesy of the Afro-American Newspaper Archives

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