As the Kansas City Chiefs come here for a huge game with the Baltimore Ravens, I am writing in remembrance of a visit here by the team almost 54 years ago.
On Sept. 25-27 of 1970, Baltimore had its first City Fair. The fair ran one weekend a year from 1970 to 1991. In 1970, our city was still looking for ways to bounce back and unify after rioting in the aftermath of the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. The fair was a brainchild of then city Housing Commissioner Bob Embry, now head of the Abell Foundation, and his two aides, Sandra Hillman and Hope Quackenbush. The stated goal of the City Fair was to help get Baltimore’s diverse neighborhoods to work together. And it was a success, as newspapers reported 360,000 people came downtown that weekend.
The neighborhood booths, entertainment stages, etc., were in the Charles Center plazas downtown, on either side of Fayette Street. I had been named Entertainment Committee chairman. We had the Baltimore Symphony on Friday night and jazz vocalist Ethel Ennis with the U.S. Army Jazz Band on Saturday night. While fireworks on the harbor officially ended the fair, we had scheduled a Sunday Sundown Singalong gospel music finale at Charles Center. As the crowd gathered and we were ready to start, I found myself surrounded by a group of humongous Black gentlemen in bright red blazers with yellow arrowheads on the breast pockets.
It was some of the Kansas City Chiefs players, in town to play the Baltimore Colts at Memorial Stadium on Monday Night Football. They had just checked into a downtown hotel in the middle of what had become the fairgrounds. One of the Chiefs asked what was happening, and he seemed to know a bit about our city. It was Willie Lanier, who had starred at and graduated from Morgan State University. He played middle linebacker for the Chiefs for 11 seasons and is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
I told him about the fair and how it was intended to help bring the city neighborhoods back together. He smiled at that. Then Esther Phillips and her orchestra started the program with “We Shall Overcome.” The Chiefs football players — including Lanier and stars Bobby Bell and Buck Buchanan — held hands with parents and robed kids from a church choir that was about to go on. Everyone swayed back and forth singing the civil rights anthem. Little kids in purple robes, big football players in red blazers. All smiles. Quite a site. Lanier said to me, “Pretty good, Baltimore. Pretty good.”
That’s the last pleasant thing I say about the Chiefs this weekend.
Stan Heuisler, Baltimore