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Hunting for ­History in Parole

Born in the shadow of the Civil War, this African American community has grown and thrived

How did Parole get that odd name?
    Today’s sprawling malls at Festival Plaza and the Annapolis Towne Center at Parole are built where once sprawled a Civil War prisoner of war camp, called Camp Parole because the prisoners had given their promise, their parole, not to escape.
    Civilians came and started businesses to serve the military and the prisoners. Many were African Americans, building homes, churches, schools and a community of their own. Their descendants still live there today on streets named for the prominent African-American families.
    Just off the beaten track, Parole is wedged between Solomons Island Road, West Street, Chinquapin Round Road and Forest Drive, with only a short section of Forest Drive offering a glimpse of this historic neighborhood.
    A new walking tour will showcase 20 historic landmarks of African American history in Parole. Helping organize the history quest is Annapolis Alderwoman Rhonda Pindell Charles, a lifelong resident of Parole who has raised her own children in the neighborhood.
    “The schools, the churches and the community health center are the highlights,” said Pindell Charles. “They helped build the community and hold it together.”

The Mt. Olive A.M.E. Church has stood at Hicks Avenue since 1886. Before that it was the Macedonia A.M.E. Church, built in 1870.

    Mt. Olive A.M.E. Church is one of the landmarks. Founded in 1870 as the Macedonia A.M.E. Church, the current church has stood on Hicks Avenue since 1886.
    Another tour landmark is the Walter S. Mills-Parole Elementary School, which evolved from the Camp Parole Rosenwald School built between 1924 and 1925. More than 5,000 schools for black students and teachers were created in 15 southern states between 1917 and 1931 in a charitable trust developed by Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears, Roebuck and Company, and Booker T. Washington of the Tuskegee Institute. The site of the original Rosenwald school is now an apartment building.

The Walter S. Mills-Parole Elementary School, named for its longtime principal, began as the Camp Parole Rosenwald School in the mid 1920s.

    Longtime Parole Elementary principal Walter S. Mills helped guide the education of generations of Parole families. Mills is also noted for his 1939 suit against the Anne Arundel County Board of Education that resulted in equal pay for black principals and teachers. Mills was represented by Thurgood Marshall, then a lawyer with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and later a Supreme Court justice.
    After Mills’ death, his name was added to Parole Elementary School. Both the school and the Mills family home are on the tour.
    Mills joined the Rev. John Chambers Sr. in founding the Community Health Center at Parole. The center has been renovated and expanded over its 80 years and now provides immunizations, reproductive health services and testing for HIV and tuberculosis.
    Other tour landmarks — some vanished and some existing — include the Aris T. Allen Memorial; the home of John Thomas Chambers Jr., the first black mayor of Annapolis; the homes of aldermen and women Thomas Norwood Brown, Samuel L. Gilmore, Classie Gillis Hoyle and Rhonda Pindell Charles. Also on the tour is home of Charles ‘Hoppy’ Adams Jr., a much-loved DJ on Annapolis radio WANN for 40 years.
    “We see these places all the time but we really don’t think about them as landmarks,” Pindell Charles said. “I want people to pause and say, Wow, this is history! I think the tour will bring it all together. I think it will be a source of pride.”

Annapolis Town Center stands on the grounds of a harness track built in the 1890s. The half-mile track drew racing fans from around the region until the 1950s.