Describe the opportunities available to African-American laborers at Sparrow Point, Maryland, over the past two hundred years.
Being south of the Mason-Dixon Line, the State of Maryland's history is tied to the American South, as well as to the development of this country's maritime and steel industries, both situated at Sparrow's Point because of its proximity to the port of Baltimore. Consequently, the history of African-American labor at Sparrow's Point reflects those factors.
Sadly, slavery was the practice in the colony and later state of Maryland until the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. The port of Baltimore was essential for the Confederacy during the Civil War, and slave labor was employed in the major economic sectors there. Maryland had many plantations, especially those growing tobacco, and black slaves were used to work the fields.
Following the end of the Civil War, the major industries in and around Sparrow's Point have been in the areas of steel and shipbuilding, two labor-intensive activities that provide a lot of skilled and unskilled labor opportunities. The steel industry was established in Sparrow's Point during the 19th Century, when the Pennsylvania Steel Company built what would become one of the largest steel mills in the world. Later purchased by Bethlehem Steel in 1916, the mill remained a major employer for blacks and whites until the nation-wide decline in domestically produced steel during the 1980s. The mill underwent several more ownership changes over the years and continued to produce steel into the 21st Century, but has since seen operations terminated.
Another major source of employment for African-Americans was the Sparrow's Point Shipyard, opened in 1889. As with the steel mill -- and closely related to terms of supplying materials for the construction of ships -- the shipyard was a major employer of both blacks and whites. Once again, as the steel and domestic shipbuilding industries declined in the United States during the 1980s and 1990s, employment opportunities for all racial and ethnic groups declined.