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Sunday, May 28, 2023

A Tribute to the Old 4th Ward in Annapolis Coming in April

The intersection of West and Washington Streets in Annapolis, Maryland—which is known as the “Old Fourth Ward’s gateway”— is intertwined in historical pride and pain. Janice Hayes-Williams’ mother, Virginia Phelps Hayes, and grandmother, Louisa Hebron Phelps were born in Annapolis’ Old Fourth Ward. Hayes-Williams is a historian who currently lives in Severn, Maryland who reflected on the importance of an era that is wrapped in memories there.

“It is where my maternal family once lived,” Hayes-Williams said.

She added that it is currently the Second Ward. Many members of African American families like Hayes-Williams’ in Annapolis’ Old Fourth Ward inherited stories about a place that was comprised of businesses, churches and entertainment hot spots. Black and Jewish residents were deeply rooted in it until government action changed the bustling place. Homesteads were lost, too. Hayes-Williams mentioned that the Old Fourth Ward was a self-contained community that was also known as “the Annapolis Black Wall Street.”  

“It was decimated by urban renewal in the late sixties and early seventies. I kind of grew up seeing the change and the devastation of whole blocks being wiped out, all because of the urban renewal, which was a state law,” Hayes-Williams said. “There were 33 businesses lost.”

She added that urban renewal caused a surge of public housing in Annapolis because of people being forced to move from their homesteads and having to find a place to live. Along the way, a parking garage for Anne Arundel County employees was added on some of the land. A park that was “nothing” drew homelessness and crime, according to Hayes-Williams.

“I became concerned about the park in 2010. That’s when I worked for Councilman Chris Trumbauer as his legislative aide,” she said. “Chris Trumbauer and I worked to get the park out of Central Services to Recs & Parks. Once that happened it took on a whole new persona because it was now for the people, so the 10th county executive, Steuart Pittman, based on requests, gave the park a name—People’s Park. It was now under Recs & Parks and the cleanup began.”

Hayes-Williams said that people can now use the park as a “better space.” Trumbauer and Hayes-Williams noted that it was saved from development. Trumbauer mentioned that in 2012, he was a county council member who represented that district. He is currently Anne Arundel County’s budget officer.

“People’s Park really is a hub of action now where you have community events, rallies and other people-centric activities,” Trumbauer also said. “I’m proud to see that the park has become, I think, more important as a focal point to that area and to the community.”

The inclusion of the Speaker Michael E. Busch Amphitheater is among the improvements.

A Tribute to the Old 4th Ward Ribbon Cutting and Community Event will be held on Saturday, April 15, 2023, from 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. at the People’s Park, located at 44 Calvert Street in Annapolis, Maryland. County Executive Steuart Pittman’s office, the Anne Arundel County Department of Recreation and Parks and others will provide the tribute. New storyboards will be unveiled to honor the Old 4th Ward while celebrating its vibrant history and once thriving community.

Hayes-Williams created three storyboards. She said that one tells the story of urban renewal. Another recounts the story of the people and what the Fourth Ward was. The third storyboard incorporates men and their commitment to service, including the masons (Freemasons) who were messmen at the United States Naval Academy, veterans of the Civil War and others.

“That storyboard tells about the early organizations out of the Fourth Ward,” Hayes-Williams said. “This was a loving community that was decimated by urban renewal and has taken 10 county executives to give a tribute to those people that were traumatized by the change.”

Hayes-Williams added that those who lost property in the block of the parking garage’s location will be recognized by having their names placed on benches in the park. She credits Pittman for overdue progress that is being made. Pittman added perspective about the park’s evolution and the tribute.

 “In 2020 we renamed ‘Whitmore Park’ to ‘People’s Park’ to honor the contributions of the people of the Old 4th Ward,” said County Executive Pittman. “We hope this tribute will bring much-needed awareness and attention to their stories because they deserve to be told.”

Hayes-Williams reflected on hard-earned progress that has been achieved over time, in addition to her contributions to the storyboards.

“If my mother was here, she would be proud,” the historian said.

Register by clicking this link or call Anne Arundel County Recreation & Parks at 410-222-7316 for further details about the Old 4th Ward tribute and community event.

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