BNHA Read's Drug Store
Gaining Freedom for All: African American Heritage and the Struggle for Equality
Points of Interest
N Howard St & W Lexington St
Baltimore, Maryland 21201
One of the Baltimore’s least well-known but most important stories is the history of the former Read’s Drug Store and its important role in Baltimore’s civil rights movement. Built in 1934 by Baltimore architects Smith and May, the press heralded this Art Deco structure as a local landmark from its beginning—a modern flagship store for the Read’s chain, continuing their 50-year presence at the bustling heart of the downtown retail district.
Like many downtown commercial establishments in the early 1950s, the Read’s chain maintained a strict policy of racial segregation at their lunch counters. In 1955, a group of Morgan State College students came together with the leadership of the recently organized Baltimore Committee on Racial Equality to organize a sit-in protest at the lunch counter of the Read’s Drug Store at Howard and Lexington Streets. They succeeded in this effort, marking this building as a witness to the first successful student-led sit-in protest in Baltimore. Their success provided a defining and powerful model for the more famous lunch-counter sit-in of Greensboro, North Carolina in 1960.
Although the famous lunch counter is now gone, the building’s facades still retain the original Art Deco styling. The building future is in question due to various failures in redeveloping the old drug store and other nearby historic structures.
This site summary is courtesy of Baltimore Heritage, Inc., a non-profit organization that works to save historic buildings and neighborhoods through outreach, advocacy and technical assistance. Visit the Baltimore Heritage, Inc. website for more information on Read’s Drug Store.