The Afro American newspaper on Aug. 31, 1963 features a front page story about the March on Washington. Image courtesy of AFRO American Newspapers.

Baltimore’s Afro news organization will house and showcase its extensive archives in a restored Upton Mansion in West Baltimore with more than $2 million in federal funding.

Maryland Democrats U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen and U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume worked together to secure $2.2 million for the project. The money will go toward restoring the building and digitizing the Afro’s archives, which is made up of more than 100 years of news articles, photographs, letters and audio recordings. 

“The Afro archives is one of the strongest reserves of information about the African-American community in our country, and it’s right here in Baltimore,” Cardin said.

The refurbished mansion, which was first built in 1838, will act as a showcase for Black history and will also be the future home of the Afro organization. Highlights of the archives include more than three million photographs, an audio recording of Martin Luther King Jr. and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, and letters written by Booker T. Washington.

“You can’t tell the story of Baltimore without telling the story of Black Baltimore. The same is true of America and our state. And so as we gather here, on Black History Month, we want to make sure we keep these treasures alive,” Van Hollen said this week at a news conference.

The Afro should move into its new home sometime next year. The headquarters will feature a research room where members of the public can access the archives. 

Recognized as a historic building by the city, the Upton Mansion in the 800 block of West Lanvale Street has been vacant for more than a decade. Vandalism and neglect have taken a toll on the building. The project will secure the building, which some preservations feared could be lost.

“We see many of us in this opportunity for there to be a new renaissance, a rebirth, both with the digitization project of the archives, and with residents in this community who want to look up here and know that there’s something on this hill that’s very special to them,” Mfume said. 

The restored mansion will be operated by the Afro’s nonprofit arm, Afro Charities. 

The Baltimore Afro-American newspaper was founded in 1892. Toni Draper, the publisher of the Afro, said it was fitting her family-run organization would have its new headquarters in Upton.

“They started to tell the good news of the community,” Draper said of the Afro’s founders. “They started because no one else was telling that news. They started with my great-grandfather, who was 52 years old having been enslaved and a veteran of the Civil War … They started it right here in Upton.”

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Tim Swift

Tim Swift is a local freelance writer and the former features editor for the Baltimore Sun.

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