As a kid, Roland Freeman was a mem ber of a Baltimore street gang, sent away to a Southern Maryland farm by his mother to avoid a bad ending. Later there was reform school, the Air Force (where he won a Brownie camera in a crap game) and the civil rights movement. Now 44, he's turned out a "witness documentarian" whose photographic study of black Americans, "Southern Roads/City Pavements," opens Saturday at the Corcoran.

The 100 black-and-white photographs are the result of a 12-year project fulfilling Freeman's commitment to document the African American experience.

Mississippi folk life is the heart of the "Southern Roads" section. The camera is intimate with its subjects: fiddlers, blacksmiths, basketmakers, quilters; a baptism; cotton fields; a group of men in dignified poses on the front porch and a child braiding her grandmother's hair.

To the north, the camera reveals citified residents in fancy shoes and hats. Some smoke on the front stoop. There are huge cars, motorcycle toughs, a close-up of a serious or scared youth posing in a sports jacket, and poverty. Typical of the Baltimore folk scenes is the horse-drawn cart outside the Fabulous Club House Bar and Lounge, driven by "Arabers," hucksters with purposefully unintelligible songs for their customers.

The number of Arabers gets smaller every year, Freeman says, and most now work from trucks. That's one more reason his fields-to-back-alleys survey is important. SOUTHERN ROADS/CITY PAVEMENTS -- Photographs of Black Americans by Roland L. Freeman, opens Saturday, continuing through March 6.