Renaming history to hide past and present racism and classism in East Baltimore

The recent article ‘Prospect of prosperity means loss of name: ‘Rebranding’ Middle East at the cost of its heritage’ on May 26 by Steve Kilar suggests that we just have to accept that branding by public-private partnerships rule the day and any history which reminds us of what needs to change to make us a more equitable city is removed.

Perhaps it is more about keeping the biggest employer Johns Hopkins University and Hospital, aka as the powerful 1% of Maryland basking in its continuously expanding geography in East Baltimore, feel safe and happy? A name change in line with its vision of a ‘mixed-income’ community and its decision of whose history is worthy of being preserved and whose is forgotten simply reflects its power.

A bit more reflective of the process of this suggested name change would be the agreement with residents by Forest City and EBDI not to change the name after residents said they did not want this to happen. Nevertheless, off they scampered with those public funds to hire yet another marketing firm to do yet another campaign. The public meetings where this current new name was supposedly presented to and accepted by the community were not really public; public is when all the affected community is made aware and invited. The process of community input by EBDI and Forest City is to target selected community members who will not rock ‘their’ boat on the way to a white-washed community of means. Meanwhile it is exactly this repeated history of non-transparency, back-door meetings, and land-grabbing by the powerful Johns Hopkins supported by its public and private partners which must be acknowledged and changed to prevent the continuous uprooting of historic low income and African American residents to accommodate the elite university.  

But how can it when the history continues to be buried and renamed and residents continue to be displaced: out of sight out of mind. This history continues to repeat itself evident by the initial 14 acres of Hopkins in 1889 expanded to the current 70+ acres in 2013. Where are those thousands of families who previously lived in the 60+ acres next to the temporary and changing borders of Johns Hopkins and its affiliates? Where do they live? How have they benefited from the expansion of Johns Hopkins into their land? What happened to their voice in rebuilding their community, their social networks that provided stability? We cannot honestly answer these questions because we have systematically abandoned, disrupted, and displaced the history of this community to make way for the ever expanding giant of Johns Hopkins? Will the name of the community change to seal this lost history? 

Will our segregated-separate and unequal- city every change or simply grow more so? There remains hope if we keep lifting up the truth in the midst of the glamorous changes being shoved down residents’ throats. Let us remember what Mayor O’Malley said in 2001 at the beginning of this project: ‘We really need to arrive at a common vision that can be shared by Johns Hopkins and the citizens of East Baltimore… If that can’t happen, I’m not going to force it down anybody’s throat’. (‘City, Hopkins weigh plan for east-side development More than 20 blocks could be razed for `bioscience park’; Building on city’s strengths’ The Sun 11 January 2001) Well Governor O’Malley, there is some major forcing going on so maybe you can step in and facilitate that common vision! Unless that was just convenient rhetoric back then when your administration was buying public support for a project which never intended to respect the human rights of residents abandoned and marginalized by past and current inequitable systems, policies, and practices? A project which always intended to bury a history of one people for the continued expansion of another.

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