Thanks to a Maryland Traditions preservation grant, RiverArts is able to stage an exhibition to celebrate local black entrepreneurs of the 50’s and 60’s. Curators Lani Hall Seikaly and Airlee Ringgold Johnson share the stories of twenty-five black business owners, their family, employees and/or clients of businesses open during that time through videos, photographs and text. Over 15 black businesses alone were located on a two block section of Cannon Street which residents described as a busy downtown commerce area during the day and a bustling place on Friday and Saturday nights. The infamous Charlie Graves’ Uptown Club on Calvert Street added to the vitality of the time by bringing in big name singers including James Brown, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Patti Labelle, Etta James, Ottis Redding and Ray Charles to perform.
The exhibition features stories about thriving black businesses, the families and friends that patronized them and the compassionate and resourceful entrepreneurs that created them. The stories talk about a community with an incredible work ethic and a strong sense of caring. Glimpses of segregation and its impact are laced through the stories as well as the challenges of transitioning to integration. Narrators share that the closing of the businesses was a loss to the black community that is still felt today.
For more information visit www.chestertownriverarts.org call RiverArts at 410 778 6300.
Chestertown RiverArts is located at 315 High Street, Suite 106, Chestertown, MD 21620 – (in the breezeway). Gallery hours are Tuesday – Friday, 11 AM to 5:30 PM, Saturday 10 AM to 5:30PM, Sunday 11 AM – 3 PM, and open on First Fridays until 8 PM.