KPELLE VILLAGE – Launched in Druid Hill Park in 1984, Kpelle Village was a part of a cultural exchange project that was associated with Sister Cities International. Kpelle is an ethnic group in Liberia. Sister Cities promoted the exchange of culture between countries. Baltimore’s first Sister city was Gbarnga, Liberia. An authentic village was built to replicate a particular period in Liberia and its people.
But the connection between Baltimore and Gbarnga was established years before the village was built at Druid Hill Park. In the early 1970’s Larry Gibson, Baltimore lawyer, author, political strategist, visited Gbnarga and based on his experience with the country and its people, believed that a cultural exchange project would serve the best interests of both locales. Thus, the relationship began and led to exchange of artifacts, pen pals, teacher exchange and cross country visits.
A groundbreaking ceremony with African dance kicked off the project at the park that included the presence of Maria Broom and former Mayor Donald Schaefer, among others. However, all was not well in Kpelle Village. There were segments of the Black community that just despised its location – the zoo.
Dr. Emmit Burns, as well as International Ministerial Alliance pressed the Sister Cities organization and the mayor to have it removed to another area of the park. But the Sister Cities committee balked and noted they placed the exhibit in the zoo because of its size, trees that resembled Liberia, and free cost. Additionally, the committee had noted that they appreciate the Black past and are proud of it.