In A Brotherhood of Liberty, Dennis Patrick Halpin shifts the
focus of the black freedom struggle from the Deep South to argue that
Baltimore is key to understanding the trajectory of civil rights in
the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the 1870s and
early 1880s, a dynamic group of black political leaders migrated to
Baltimore from rural Virginia and Maryland. These activists, mostly
former slaves who subsequently trained in the ministry, pushed
Baltimore to fulfill Reconstruction's promise of racial equality. In
doing so, they were part of a larger effort among African Americans
to create new forms of black politics by founding churches, starting
businesses, establishing community centers, and creating newspapers.
Black Baltimoreans successfully challenged Jim Crow regulations on
public transit, in the courts, in the voting booth, and on the
streets of residential neighborhoods. They formed some of the
nation's earliest civil rights organizations, including the United
Mutual Brotherhood of Liberty, to define their own freedom in the
period after the Civil War.
Halpin shows how
black Baltimoreans' successes prompted segregationists to reformulate
their tactics. He examines how segregationists countered activists'
victories by using Progressive Era concerns over urban order and
corruption to criminalize and disenfranchise African Americans.
Indeed, he argues the Progressive Era was crucial in establishing the
racialized carceral state of the twentieth-century United States.
Tracing the civil rights victories scored by black Baltimoreans that
inspired activists throughout the nation and subsequent generations,
A Brotherhood of Liberty highlights the strategies that can
continue to be useful today, as well as the challenges that may be