Hands on History
Louis Diggs, B.A. ’79, M.P.A. ’82
While he was working as a substitute teacher in Catonsville, Maryland, more than two decades ago, Louis Diggs, B.A. ’79, M.P.A. ’82, taught students at Catonsville High School how to research their roots in the local community. But the assignment upset some of the African-American students because they couldn’t find any information.
“They were disappointed,” Diggs recalls. “They asked‚ ‘Can you help us find our history?’
“That’s when I began my quest.”
Over the past 20 years, the Baltimore city native has become one of the most authoritative voices on Baltimore County’s African-American history. The author of nine books—with a 10th on the way—Diggs has aimed to help the African-American community know and understand its roots. He has made it his mission to tell the story of the 40 African-American communities within Baltimore County.
“People need to know their history,” he says, simply.
Through his years of research, Diggs became an authority on local African-American history and amassed a collection of roughly 8,000 photographs—some dating as far back as the days of slavery. In past years, Diggs has taken his photo collection on the road and put it on display for the public at a number of locations, from local malls to nursing homes. He’s even had people recognize old photos of relatives.
“It’s such a thrill to listen to someone who is 90 or 100 years old, to have them sit with me and bare their lives.”
These days, Diggs is largely focused on his biggest project to date: the Louis S. Diggs Research Center for African-American History. While the center—which offers monthly genealogy classes—currently is housed within the Historical Society of Baltimore County’s Cockeysville, Maryland, headquarters, Diggs is working to raise funds to renovate and repair an adjacent historic building donated by the society. Once completed, the building will serve as the new home for the center and will enable Diggs to share his research know-how more thoroughly with the community.
He says this research has offered him experiences that will stick with him forever.
“It’s such a thrill to listen to someone who is 90 or 100 years old, to have them sit with me and bare their lives,” says Diggs, whose most recent interviews include Baltimore County residents with ancestors who served in the Civil War.
The longtime historian estimates that he’s conducted hundreds of interviews over the past two decades.
“Every time I [do] an interview, I [can’t] wait to go do another one.”