post-title Living in Color

Living in Color

Living in Color

Living in Color

By Kiki Wilson

The Partnership is thrilled to introduce Voices of Downtown Frederick – a blog series highlighting the many communities that help make Downtown Frederick special. This month’s blog celebrates Black-Owned Businesses and is written by Kiki Wilson, founder of OUT40 Media.

And in the end, the study of color is the study of ourselves.” – Josef Albers

To be a pop of a color in a black and white world is the mantra many live by today. It is a relished freedom, an acceptable societal rebellion, and an ode to our ancestors. We all have ties to an old monochromatic world; American history is unkind to its colorful roots.

Joy Onley, author of Memories of Frederick, takes readers on a captivating journey through the rich history and vibrant culture of colored life in Downtown Frederick. The book serves as a time machine, transporting readers to a bygone era when the town was still in its infancy. Onley masterfully weaves together personal anecdotes, historical accounts, and vivid descriptions to paint a picture of Frederick’s early days. Through her words, readers can almost hear the echoes of small wagons being pulled by neighborhood boys yelling “cobs for sale,” feel the rumble of the parade during the annual Emancipation picnic, taste a gulp of homemade root beer after gnawing Mollie Brown’s walnut taffies and witness the birth of a town that would eventually blossom into our beloved, lively Downtown Frederick community.

“As I sit and remember scenes of my childhood, I feel there were many beautiful, strong black men and women who were the forerunners of colored life (as it was called then) here in Frederick and are worth mentioning. These good and faithful souls who have since gone on to glory made history here in our town. They stand out in my memory for they had little means and the odds were great but their pluck and perseverance should never be forgotten.

These extraordinary people should be mentioned so that young Frederick men and women, boys and girls, can know them. Some of them still have descendants now living in Frederick, They gave of themselves so that Frederick would be a better place to live. By their fruits you should know and remember them for their footprints are in the sands of time.” – Joy Onley, Memories of Frederick, 1995

Like in many other small, suburban cities across the nation, African Americans in Frederick were historically subjected to unimaginable hardships and oppression. However, even in the face of adversity, they managed to carve out a spirited community that thrived despite the odds. On the heels of segregation, living while black was a daily defiance in the face of oppression; it is a choice to keep pride and dignity as part of one’s identity.

(1922) Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Frederick, Frederick County, Maryland. Sanborn Map Company, Jun. [Map] Retrieved from the Library of Congress.

The term colored life represents the struggles and triumphs of the African American community – with the remnants of Jim Crow still fresh. The contributions of African Americans in Downtown Frederick extended beyond their stifling circumstances. West All Saints Street became the heart of Black culture, commerce, and social life. It was a place where black-owned businesses flourished and served as symbols of strength and self-determination. Churches were the cornerstone of Black living. The community was home to talented entrepreneurs, artists, doctors, and intellectuals who left an indelible mark on the cultural landscape of the city. Joy Onley’s familial storytelling and deep connection to Downtown Frederick lends us her lens of Frederick in a 1920’s time capsule. From customers waiting with bated breath for Miss Alice Bouldin to receive shipments from France and Belgium to supply her lace and linen shop to the aroma of Franklin Sanders’ Saturday night specials of turtle soup, fried chicken, and crab cakes lingering in the air on Sunday morning walks to church, Onley captures the essence of the community spirit that all started on one street. Their creativity, artistic expressions, and innovations added vitality and diversity to the downtown scene, making it a bustling hub of cultural exchange and commune.

Photograph of West All Saints Street, Courtesy of Heritage Frederick Archives

Let us pay tribute to the unsung heroes who dared to live in color.

Through Memories of Frederick, Onley seamlessly bridges the gap between the past and the present. Onley’s recount serves as a reminder that the stories of the past are not confined to history books but are woven into the fabric of Downtown Frederick life. Understanding and celebrating this history is essential to appreciating the cultural heritage that helped to shape us.

But colored life is not just a relic of the past.The struggles and achievements of Black Fredericktonians are a living legacy that will forever be a foundation on which the city stands. They nurtured a street into a village and paved the way for the downtown we know today, where people from all walks of life can converge and prosper.

As you stroll down West All Saints, let Memories of Frederick be your guide. Memories of Frederick is more than just a book; it is a love letter to the town and its people. The contributions of the African American community in Downtown Frederick were feats of resilience and creativity. By embracing this history, we honor the past and create a more inclusive and equitable future for us all.

Though life was once black and white, we have found living is so much better in color.

Memories of Frederick is available for public access at the Maryland Room at C Burr Artz Public library.

Kiki Wilson is owner of OUT40, a media company that covers the arts, people, and streets of Frederick, many may pass but do not see. OUT40 is the premier media outlet that houses art, entertainment, news, and storytelling through the POC lens since 2013. Connect with Kiki about social causes, music or your personal stories on LinkedIn or Instagram.