On the Juneteenth federal holiday, guests, stakeholders, and officials gathered at the renovated Northwood Commons near Morgan State University (MSU) in Baltimore to celebrate the eighth branch of The Harbor Bank of Maryland’s opening. In 1982, the only Black-owned and managed commercial bank in Maryland first opened its doors for business with assets totaling $2.1 million. As of December 31, 2020, Harbor Bank’s assets have reportedly grown to $321 million. Juneteenth was a fitting time to consider the importance of local redevelopment, circulating Black dollars, and addressing the needs of today’s community bankers.

Harbor Bank’s Chairman and CEO, Joseph Haskins, Jr. remarked that the bank has become increasingly selective about where branches are opened while recognizing online banking’s growth.

“How do you meet them where they are? And that’s looking at technology, and the type of technology that you need. But you also know there is going to be a need at times for them to be in a physical location, i.e. the branch,” Haskins said.

He deliberately selected the ribbon cutting date of the new branch on Monday, June 20 to coincide with the oldest celebratory commemoration of emancipation of African Americans in the United States. Although formerly Morgan College’s (MSU’s) campus was near what is now Northwood Commons, and formerly known as Northwood Shopping Center, African Americans were once restricted from shopping there or enjoying entertainment at Northwood Theatre. After taking a closer look at the area’s lesser discussed history, racial covenants permitted the Northwood community to exist as a residential neighborhood for whites only.  Shopping amenities initially catered to them.

Hecht Company opened as an anchor store in 1954. A laundry service; beauty salon; dentist; shoe repair; a large discount department store; Northwood Theatre; and other places of business were present at the shopping center, back in 1951, according to Northwood Commons’ website. MSU’s president, Dr. David Wilson referenced the shopping center’s unjust past, during the event.

“Nearly sixty years ago, as you’ve heard, I and so many of you in the audience would not have been welcomed in the shopping center, and that was certainly the case with students as you’ve heard attending Morgan during that era, as well as for all of the residents in this neighborhood who were Black,” Wilson said.

Over 400 of MSU’s students were jailed for participating in a demonstration to demand the right to enjoy the entertainment facilities and patronize the shops, according to Wilson. February 19, 1963 was one recorded date when “members of MSU’s Civic Interest Group (CIG) were denied entry in protest of anti-segregation laws,” per information provided by Northwood Commons’ website. In a photo which accompanied the timeline, students are visible standing near Northwood Theatre.

The Honorable Robert M. Bell, a retired Baltimore Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals of Maryland is a Morgan College alumnus who recalled the historical chapter chronicling a fight for equal rights dating back to the ‘40s and ‘50s. Students such as Bell boycotted stores, while the shopping center continued to refuse to comply with the public accommodation law for people of color.

Considering the discriminatory history of Northwood Shopping Center, the redeveloped shopping center, which was also formerly known as Northwood Plaza Shopping Center, exemplifies long-term progress. A black-owned bank, and other black-owned businesses, have a presence there. This achievement underscores the value of teamwork and having vision. Congressman Kweisi Mfume remarked that he was among The Harbor Bank of Maryland’s first depositors. He recalled using his job on MSU’s radio station, WEAA, to help raise money for it.

More chapters have been written in Northwood Commons’ modern-day story. The $50-million redevelopment project is located adjacent to Morgan’s West Campus, per MSU’s online information that was provided about the project. In 2018, Wilson announced today that “the Maryland Board of Public Works (BPW) recently approved leases related to the relocation of the university’s Barnes & Noble-operated bookstore and the construction of an MSU public safety facility at the site of the Northwood Plaza Shopping Center.”

It is noteworthy to mention that Harbor Bank provided $20 million in New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) financing for the project. The program “attracts private capital into low-income communities by permitting individual and corporate investors to receive a tax credit against their federal income tax in exchange for making equity investments in specialized financial intermediaries called Community Development Entities (CDEs),” per information provided by The Community Development Financial Institutions Fund.

Commercial Group, another Black-owned company, built the shopping center. The project’s developer, David Bramble, serves as Black-owned MCB Real Estate’s managing partner. He recalled growing up hearing his father, retired priest named Dr. Peter Bramble, encouraging his parishioners to deposit money in The Harbor Bank of Maryland. David encouraged everyone who attended the ribbon cutting ceremony to utilize the shopping center.

“Next time someone tells you you can’t do projects like this in our city, and in our neighborhoods, laugh at them and give them directions to Northwood Commons,” he said.

Baltimore Times Staff
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