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  April 11, 2018

The Arch Social Club Holds More Than 100 Years of Black Baltimore History

The Arch Social Club, which sits at Penn North, at the heart of the Uprising after the death of Freddie Gray, has provided a haven for Black men in an often racist city for more than a century
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EZE JACKSON: What's up, y'all. I'm Eze Jackson from the Real News Network with another Black History Moment. This time we're going to talk about the Arch Social Club.

Today the Arch Social Club sits quietly on the corner of Pennsylvania and North Avenue. Founded in Baltimore in 1905 and officially incorporated in 1912, Arch Social Club has been said to be the oldest continually-running black men's club in the U.S.

The men who began the club, Raymond A. Coates, Jeremiah S. Hill, and Sam L. Barney, saw the need to create a support system during a time where blacks were excluded from white spaces and faced the hardships of being free when slavery had not very long ago been abolished. Though Baltimore is considered a Northern city, much of the systemic racism enforced in the South still pervaded the Northern United States. Just a few hours away, in the same state of Maryland, plantations still existed in southern Maryland and on the Eastern Shore. Baltimore was a city where black people could find work, start families, buy homes, but were still not allowed in many white establishments. Segregation was as American as apple pie.

The men created a place dedicated to, quote, the social, moral, and intellectual uplift of its members, and in order that charity may be practiced in a Christian-like spirit, and true friendship and brotherly love be promoted and maintained. Social clubs where birthed from the reformist movement in Victorian-era Britain as a place where men could hang out with each other without the presence of alcohol. The clubs were divided by class, and their functions evolved. In the U.S. black social clubs like Arch Social Club were founded to build collective economic, political, and social networks for the benefit of their own communities. They helped people build independence in the face of heavy discrimination and segregation.

Members of the club joined by invite only, and ranged from doctors, lawyers, elected officials, to business owners, pastors, and professors. Not long after Arch Social moved to the current location, the area began to decline. Businesses and venues closed, and throughout the '80s and '90s the area was hit hard by poverty, drugs, and violence. Still, today, Arch Social Club fights to remain in existence. Its funding is scarce and many of its members have passed away. But the clubhouse continues to push, preserving its history, inviting younger members, and hosting events in spite of the challenges.

Arch Social Club celebrated its 100 year anniversary in March of 2012. It is currently the only venue still able to host live music on the historic Pennsylvania Avenue strip. In April of 2015 Arch Social had a front row seat to the uprising following the death of Freddie Gray, who was murdered while in police custody. Right on the corner of Pennsylvania and North Avenue, protesters gathered, and some even clashed with law enforcement as frustration over systemic racism came to a boiling point, changing conversations about the state of policing and black Baltimoreans forever. We salute the founders and those that continue the legacy of the Arch Social Club.


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