On the streets of Baltimore, it is getting harder and harder to hear the holler of arabbers. These street vendors, peddling produce and seafood on horse-drawn carriages, have been a part of Baltimore life for decades. But with less than a dozen arabbers on the street today, along with new city regulations on their horses and the potential loss of the stables they use, the cries of the arabber may be a thing of the past.
The word "arab" was British slang for homeless youth. While no one is sure how this term translated to describing street vendors in Baltimore, the word conveys the transience of arabbers' lives.
For African Americans, arabbing is a tradition that started after the Civil War, when jobs that offered independence for African American men were hard to find. Selling food from a cart was one of the few self-sufficient trades. Yet arabbing didn't become a distinctly African American trade until World War II, when industrial jobs opened up for white vendors.
"Today, they are living history, a reminder of Baltimore's past and the fact that horses built our cities and did the work that is now being done by machines. They are a reminder of a different time when people helped people," says Scott Kecken, who directed the 2004 documentary We Are Arabbers. ... Read More →