Title: Our Struggles
Synopsis: Our Struggles documents much of the history of the following historic African American communities in the southeastern corridor of Baltimore County (MD): Overlea, Chase, Bengies, Back River Neck Road in Essex, Goodwood/Hyde Park in Essex, Hopewell Avenue in Essex, Norris Lane in Dundalk, and Edgemere.
Our Struggles also documents much of the history of Bare Hills, Campfield in Pikesville and Belltown in Owings Mills. With the publication of this book, there is now published histories of each of the forty designated historic African American communities in Baltimore County. The book contains 20 oral interviews of seniors from these communities, and lots of shared photographs.
Author: Louis S. Diggs
I invited today’s Guest Author, Louis S. Diggs, to my Blog to answer a few questions about his writing, one of his books and his research center.
CH: Hi, Louis and welcome to my blog.
LSD: Thank you.
CH: The Research Center for African American History will be located behind the Historical Society of Baltimore County. And the location is significant to African Americans. Tell us how and why this location was chosen?
LSD: The Research Center will be housed in the “Pest House,” which since 1879 housed the incurables who came to, or were sent, to the “Alms House” for help. It is believed that the Pest House was built from the Texas Quarry where slaves worked, and it is a known fact that destitute African Americans were housed there. After working with the Historical Society of Baltimore County (HSOBC) to put together the 350th Anniversary Book on the History of Baltimore County, I assisted by including some of the history of African American life and communities in the book. They suggested that I have control of the Pest House and establish the Diggs Research Center.
CH: Can you tell my audience a little about the Research Center?
LSD: The Research Center will provide research abilities to those who wish to do genealogy research (We already have classes in the HSOBC), or sharing information on securing grants to preserve our historical structures, etc.
CH: I understand that you have a new book coming out soon, African Americans from Baltimore County Who Served in the Civil War. Please give us a brief synopsis of that book. When will it be released?
LSD: Here in Baltimore County, there are few documented histories of African American life. My first eight books only scratched the surface of the history of African American life and communities in the County; however, it will serve for many years as a source of the history of Baltimore County that will reflect the history of 25% of its population. This book on the history of African Americans from Baltimore County who served in the Civil War will take the documented history of African American life in this county to a higher level. The book has 475 pages of history of over 400 enslaved and free African Americans from Baltimore County as follows: the names of those who registered for the Draft; over 780 Civil War veterans at rest in the Louden Park National Park Cemetery; over 625 who were assigned to the Maryland component of the US Navy; the names of numerous African Americans who served in other State’s USCT Regiments; information on the Battles Baltimore County men participated in; information on the A/A Nurses who served in the two Military Hospitals that were located in Baltimore; information on numerous A/As and their widows, who received, or applied for pensions; and much, more information that our citizens should be aware of.
CH: Your website has quite a few valuable resource links relevant to African American History. How did you go about deciding which links were important and necessary?
LSD: Of course, I sighted in on the history of African Americans and their communities from Baltimore County where there was no documented history of African American life and communities, so I felt all of the information I have secured over the last 25 years were linked with no priorities of listing.
CH: How long have you been writing about African American history?
LSD: I started in 1990 right after fully retiring from the work world. I spent over 20 years in the military and 20 years in Civil Service.
CH: Our Struggles documents African American history in Baltimore County. It contains oral interviews with seniors and shared photos. How long did it take you to do the research for this book?
LSD: Since I had a grant from Baltimore County to research and publish this book that had to be completed within one year, it took all of that one year to complete the research and publication of the book.
CH: What attracted you to writing about African American history in the first place?
LSD: After full retirement, by four sons, all of them graduated from Catonsville High School, insisted that I volunteer at that school as a mentor because support of parents was greatly needed, especially for the young men. I did volunteer, felt that I made a difference, and ended up as a substitute teacher. While teaching a class on researching your roots and community, I discovered that African Americans from the Winters Lane of Catonsville had no record of their existence as a community. The students asked if I could help them find their history, which I did, and wrote my very first book, “It All Started on Winters Lane.” I later was inspired to research and write on all 40 of the counties designated historical African American communities in Baltimore County. I did write a book on the history of an all-African American National Guard unit in Baltimore that has been in existence since 1879. I served in the Korean War with that unit.
CH: How many books have you written and are they all centered on African American history?
LSD: I have written 8 books, all are centered on African American history, plus the one book on the African American military unit in Baltimore. The 10th book I am currently working on will share the history of hundreds of African American freedmen and slaves from Baltimore County who served in the Civil War.
CH: Do you have any advice for people trying to do historical research?
LSD: Deep down in my heart I truly wish more African Americans would spend some time researching and documenting our history. There is so much of our history that has been overlooked, since we were first brought to this country from Africa; yet, only tidbits of this history has been documented. How can our children ever learn of their history, if we as African American adults don’t roll up our sleeves and do it. As an 82-year old retiree, I can truly say that this is the type of “work after retirement” you can get involved.
CH: Out of all the books you have written, do you have a favorite book?
LSD: My favorite book that I published is From the Meadows to The Point, the history of Turner Station and the now demolished I and J Streets on Sparrows Point. To get to the very point which makes this a truly distinct part of the history of African American life in Baltimore County is the fact that since the 1890s the far majority of the African Americans who worked and lived on Sparrows Point and Turner Station came from Virginia, South and North Carolina, and created a community that was truly independent. They were self-contained and needed very little from outside of their communities. They created their own businesses with just about everything they needed from A/A doctors who brought them into the world to A/A funeral establishments that took them out. There is not enough time to name all of the businesses they created; however, I will make one exception, which is the air conditioned theater that was built by a noted A/A named Dr. Thomas who not only built beaches, ball parks, etc., but the Anthony Theater on Main Street. The theater is now gone because of the terrible decline of the community, but when I was doing my research there and encountered a photograph of the Anthony Theater, I thought for sure that I was looking at the Regent Theater on Pennsylvania Avenue in Baltimore. The theater was not only built using A/A money, but the actual building was done by A/A workers from the steel mill during their time off from work. I do not believe there are many, if any such theaters built totally by and for African Americans in this country, and hope to do my research on this soon.
CH: Which book was hardest to research?
LSD: From the Meadows to the Point. Had it not been for the assistance provided by Ms. Courtney Speed, a local historian from Turner Station, I would still be researching on this book. God Bless her for helping to make the history of Turner Station available to all.
CH: You have retired many times. So, will you retire from writing African American history books?
LSD: I don’t think I will stop writing as long as my health remains pretty good, but I will take what I have learned from the last 25 years of researching the history of African American life to another level. I have a grant of $100K to restore the old Pest House to my research Center, and a grant of $300K to restore an old slave church in Granite to a mini-Museum that my organization will begin to share the thousands of photographs I have collected on African American life in Baltimore County, and be able to go throughout Baltimore County and other areas sharing our history. I can see myself busy until I’m ready to be called home. I love what I am doing and I feel it is important that our children will have places to go to within their own county to learn more about their history, and the sacrifices African Americans have made throughout the generations, such as Ms. Alice Penderhurges, the first A/A woman to become the Superintendent of the Baltimore City Schools. Very few people know that she was born and reared in Chattolanee, a historic African American community in the Green Spring Valley, or that Adrienne Jones, the Speaker pro-tem in the Maryland Legislature was the first native born from this county to be elected to a political position, and is the founder of the 18-year old Baltimore County African American Cultural Festival, Inc. She currently serves at the Deputy of the County’s Human Resource Department, and others.
CH: So what’s next for you as an author?
LSD: I started on my 11th book some time ago, that I hope to complete after my 10th book. This is another historical, resource book for A/As searching for their roots here in Baltimore County. I have listed every known A/A cemetery here in the county, which includes those cemeteries that have been covered over, those in back yards, etc. The book will not only help folk from Baltimore County, but people should know that Cecil County, Harford County, Carroll County, Frederick County, and parts of Howard County were cut out of Baltimore County, and we all know that many African Americans, both free and enslaved resided in Baltimore City.
CH: Your books obviously have an impact on African American history. Please tell my audience your website.
LSD: I have two websites. One contains information on all of by writings, and the other is on the Diggs Research Center. They are www.louisdiggs.com and www.diggsresearchcenter.org.
CH: Where are your books sold?
LSD: I usually sell my books from my website, and when I do talks.
CH: Do you have any closing remarks?
LSD: Just that I appreciate the opportunity to participate in your program.
CH: Louis, thank you for sharing your experiences and your book with my audience.
Note: Due to space limitation African American is often shortened to A/A.
On this blog, I “Pay it Forward” to other authors by spotlighting them with a Guest Author Interview. I only ask that they too “Pay It Forward” to any other author. ~ Cheryl Holloway