By Sean Yoes
AFRO Baltimore Editor
In 1892, the AFRO American Newspaper, then known as the Afro-American Ledger, was founded and headquartered in the Upton community of Old West Baltimore. 130 years later, the AFRO has its eyes on the future and the Upton community again as the newspaper begins the process of developing a new multi-purpose headquarters.
The AFRO, the oldest family run Black newspaper in the country has obtained the rights to develop the historic Upton Mansion, located at 811 W. Lanvale St. in West Baltimore. The official announcement of the Upton Mansion development by the media company Feb. 26, included Baltimore Mayor Bernard “Jack” Young, Housing Commissioner, Michael Braverman and AFRO chairman of the board and publisher, Frances Murphy Draper, among others.
“The AFRO is rooted in Old West Baltimore in the Upton section of Baltimore City. So, for the AFRO the historical significance is that we’re moving back to our roots, to a building that was constructed in 1838…the AFRO had offices right in that Upton neighborhood when it first began in 1892,” said Draper, the great granddaughter, of AFRO founder John H. Murphy, Sr. “The other significant part of this Upton Mansion, which is not necessarily AFRO history, but is significant architecturally; I believe it is the last surviving 19th century Greek Revival country house in the City of Baltimore.”
According to Dale Green, the lead architect for the future AFRO headquarters, the Upton community is within the Old West Baltimore National Register, the largest Black historic district in the country.
“Most significantly during this time it was owned by the only African American ever to own the mansion in its 182 year history,” Green said during the official announcement Feb. 26. “Robert Young used the spacious and opulent mansion to host, “several brilliant social affairs where hundreds of guests moved about in the spacious rooms.” (according to a newspaper account in 1929), Young would be the last owner to use the building as a home.”
Green, a partner and vice president of Sulton, Campbell, Britt and Associates, P.C., and is part of an all-Black development team for the AFRO’s Upton Mansion project. Development partners include: AFRO Charities, Hodges Development, LLC, Abrams Foster Nole and Williams, P.A., McKennon, Shelton and Henn, LLP.
An estimated $7 million will be invested into the 10,000 square foot development and will serve as the new home of the AFRO, which is currently located at 1531 S. Edgewood St., as well as the AFRO archives, currently housed on the campus of Morgan State University. The redeveloped mansion will also provide space for additional organizations and institutions.
“We will be able to achieve a high quality historic preservation that is environmentally sustainable as well as providing a social equity return,” said Lisa Hodges, of Hodges Development, LLC. “During construction we will connect local students with our progress and STEM career pathways through our project website. We are proud to reposition this neglected building as a true community anchor.”
Many sectors of what was Old West Baltimore have fallen on hard times because of neglect and in some cases abuse and exploitation. Draper believes the AFRO will contribute to a renaissance of the once prominent Upton community.
“It is…a neighborhood that needs some investment, some tender loving care; a neighborhood that was once thriving,” Draper said.
“So, we are going back to our roots in West Baltimore to revitalize that neighborhood to be an anchor for that neighborhood, to bring hope to that neighborhood. And to actually do business in what is a wonderful neighborhood of our city.”