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Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz

Louis S. Diggs Award Announcement and Presentation
February 18, 2016

During a 2005 interview, actor Morgan Freeman made waves in the media when he told his interviewer that he finds Black History Month to be “ridiculous.” “I don’t want a Black History Month,” Freeman said. “Black history is American history.”

Now, I do not believe Mr. Freeman was calling for the cancellation of Black History Month, but rather, he was calling attention to a significant truth that is often sidelined — African-American history is American history. African-American history has shaped this nation no less than the midnight ride of Paul Revere, or the day that Neil Armstrong took humankind’s first steps on the moon.

The African-American Experience

The African-American experience is the story of some of the greatest Americans ever to live…Americans such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Shirley Chisholm, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, and Baltimore County’s own Benjamin Banneker…the list goes on and on.

We’re here today because the people of this county understand the importance of honoring and preserving our rich history. Doing so helps us to learn from the past; it also invites us to celebrate the present; and perhaps most importantly, it inspires us to create a better future for all. And we in Baltimore County are so fortunate to have a distinguished authority on African-American history right here in our own community – Mr. Louis Diggs.

About Louis Diggs

A 20-year veteran of the United States Army, Louis is a native of Baltimore City, but lucky for us, the love of his life, his late wife, Shirley, was from Catonsville, and that is where they settled down together. Louis attended Catonsville Community College before going on to study at the University of Baltimore and the George Washington University. After a second career in education with the Washington D.C. Public Schools, Louis retired in 1989 and took a position as a substitute teacher at Catonsville High School. It was there that his students inspired him to begin researching and writing about his family history and local African-American history, and we’re so fortunate they did.

In the years since, Louis Diggs has published 10 books on Baltimore County African-American history, his most recent detailing the story of the more than 400 African-American Baltimore Countians who served in the Civil War.

But Louis didn’t stop there. In addition to writing all those books, he makes presentations and gives tours on African-American history in the community; he manages an African-American history nonprofit organization, the Friends of Historical Cherry Hill AUMP; and he serves as president of the Diggs-Johnson Mini-Museum on African American History, which opened this past November at the restored Cherry Hill African United Methodist Protestant Church on Offutt Road in Woodstock.

No one – I repeat, no one – has done more to preserve and promote African-American history in Baltimore County than Mr. Louis Diggs. In fact, in 1997, Louis Diggs was honored by the State for “his contributions in preserving the history of Maryland’s black communities.” But that recognition was nearly 20 years ago, and he has done so much for our county and state in the decades since.

Executive Citation

Therefore, I’d like to bring Louis Diggs up to the podium for a moment. Louis, it is an honor to present you with this Executive Citation in recognition of your countless contributions to the promotion and preservation of African-American culture and heritage in Baltimore County. You have dedicated much of your life to documenting African-American history in our community, in turn enriching the hearts and minds of your fellow citizens with the stories and traditions that make Baltimore County the success it is today. Your steadfast commitment to telling the true story of the African-American experience in our community has enhanced and preserved our history for future generations. On behalf of the people of Baltimore County, I am proud to thank you for your efforts, and I wish for your continued success in the years to come.

Louis S. Diggs Award – Celebrating Baltimore County's African American Heritage

But that’s not all. Louis, it gives me great pleasure to announce that, starting this year, Baltimore County will honor a deserving recipient each year during Black History Month with the “Louis S. Diggs Award – Celebrating Baltimore County’s African American Heritage.”

In the spirit of our community’s preeminent local historian, the “Louis S. Diggs Award” will be given annually to an individual or individuals who actively promote African-American culture and heritage in Baltimore County. An award such as this is long overdue, and as county executive, it is my great honor to oversee its inauguration.

Negro Leagues Baseball

Now, as an historian and a Baltimorean, Louis Diggs knows a thing or two about baseball. He knows that, due to segregation, some of America's greatest players never played in the major leagues. Baseball greats like Jackie Robinson, Cool Papa Bell and Bert Simmons transformed baseball and all of professional sport in this country when they overcame bad working conditions, low pay, open hostility, and Jim Crow laws to do what they loved most – play ball.

One of those players, Bert Simmons, was a pitcher and outfielder in the Negro Leagues from 1941 to 1952 and played for the Baltimore Elite Giants in 1950. Grasping the cultural and historical significance of those years, Bert collected countless photographs, memorabilia and artifacts in hopes of creating a museum to tell the story of the Negro Leagues.

In 2009, Bert Simmons’ dream came true just two months before his passing, when the Simmons Museum opened in its temporary home in the basement of a church on Liberty Road, and thanks to two very special people, Bert’s collection found a permanent home when we opened the Hubert V. Simmons Museum of Negro Leagues Baseball here at the Owings Mills Library.

One of these special people raised funds, formed a board of directors and persevered until the project was a reality; the other has served as the curator who continues to build on Bert Simmons’ collection, even going on the road with exhibits. Working with various county agencies and the board of directors, these two people helped to create an exceptional museum that highlights the incredible history of Negro Leagues Baseball and its societal and historic impact on not only our nation’s favorite pastime, but on our nation as a whole.

Recipients of First Louis S. Diggs Award

And so, without further ado, it gives me great pleasure to announce the recipients of the very first Louis S. Diggs Award – Celebrating Baltimore County’s African American Heritage:

Mrs. Audrey Simmons, wife of Bert Simmons, and Ray Banks, the museum’s curator and Bert’s longtime friend, for their unwavering commitment to preserving Bert’s collection and establishing the Simmons Museum of Negro Leagues Baseball.

We have award certificates for Audrey and Bert, and this handsome plaque will be on display in the Executive Office. In closing, I thank you all for being there, and I thank our county staff for their hard work on this event.

Additional Sites to Enjoy

I wish you all a vibrant and reflective Black History Month. Please take some time to check out the Simmons Museum exhibits here at the Owings Mills Library, as well as the Diggs-Johnson Mini Museum and lots of other great historical sites listed on www.enjoybaltimorecounty.com

 
Revised April 6, 2016         

 

Contact

County Executive,
Don Mohler
Phone: 410-887-2450

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