The Journey Home

By Rebecca Morehouse, Curator of State Collections, Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab

In 1980, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funded a project to build townhouses in the block between what is now City Gate Lane and Dean Street in Annapolis. Excavation of the townhouse basements disturbed a portion of what was later identified as a 19th-century African American family cemetery. When archeologists at the Maryland Historical Trust heard of the discovery, they went to the site to rescue the human remains that had been exposed. They carefully mapped, photographed, and removed what turned out to be the partial remains of two individuals. In the event of this kind of inadvertent discovery, an archeologist’s priority is to identify what remains of the burials, document as much of the site as possible, and transfer any human remains to another location for protection. In the case of these two individuals, they were placed in the custody of MHT, and cared for at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab (MAC Lab) at Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum (JPPM), a unit of MHT.

Figure 1: Asbury United Methodist Church in Annapolis
Figure 1: Asbury United Methodist Church in Annapolis.

Little was known about these two individuals until research conducted by Janice Hayes-Williams in the early 2000s indicated their remains were likely removed from what had been the family cemetery of Smith Price. Price, formerly enslaved, came to Annapolis as a free man. He owned the property where an 1860s plat indicated his family cemetery was located, as well as the land where the Asbury United Methodist Church now stands less than a block away. Smith Price was a founding member of the African Meeting House in Annapolis, which eventually became the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1803, Asbury Methodist Episcopal Church in 1838, and then the Asbury United Methodist Church in 1968 (Figure 1).

While attending a meeting at the MAC Lab in April 2019, Janice Hayes-Williams asked me if the human remains from the Smith Price family cemetery were curated at the MAC Lab. When I told her they were, she asked if the remains could be returned to Annapolis and reburied there.  A flurry of correspondence soon followed, as MHT staff worked with the Office of the Attorney General to chart a course for the permanent transfer of the remains that would satisfy State regulations. 

The official request for transfer came from Asbury UMC in June 2019 and was quickly approved by the MHT Board of Trustees. The transfer took place on July 24, 2019 in a ceremony at Asbury UMC. In preparation for their trip to back to Annapolis, Janice Hayes-Williams wrapped the boxes which held the remains with Kente cloth and adorned them with sunflowers (Figure 2). I had the honor of assisting.

Figure 2: Boxes containing human remains from the Smith Price family cemetery are shown wrapped in Kente cloth. Photo credit: Janice Hayes-Williams
Figure 2: Boxes containing human remains from the Smith Price family cemetery are shown wrapped in Kente cloth. Photo credit: Janice Hayes-Williams

Once in the custody of the Asbury UMC, the church transferred the individuals to Dr. Julie Schablitsky, Chief Archaeologist at the Maryland State Highway Administration.  Dr. Schablitsky took the lead on coordinating the analysis of the remains, which included a detailed examination and inventory by Dr. Dana Kollmann, Forensic Anthropologist at Towson University, and facial reconstruction by forensic artist Detective Eve Grant (Figure 3). Dr. Schablitsky also arranged for DNA testing at DNA Labs International in Florida. Unfortunately, the extracted DNA was degraded and, while the scientists are still trying, they have been unable to match it to living descendants.

Figure 3: Conjectural drawing of the man whose remains were removed from the Smith Price family cemetery. Sketch by forensic artist Detective Eve Grant of the Baltimore County Police Department.
Figure 3: Conjectural drawing of the man whose remains were removed from the Smith Price family cemetery. Sketch by forensic artist Detective Eve Grant of the Baltimore County Police Department.

Analysis by Dr. Kollmann showed that the remains belonged to a man and a child of African ancestry. The man likely died sometime in his late forties or early fifties. Associated coffin nails dated to the late 18th to early 19th centuries. Though no personal artifacts were recovered with the skeletal remains, blue-green discoloration on the man’s left wrist indicates the presence of a copper alloy burial shroud pin, button, or cufflink. His skeleton showed evidence that he was muscular and would have participated in heavy physical labor. He had a minor injury to his left shin, which, while not resulting in a break, would have been painful. He also had arthritis in his right arm and shoulder, which would have also caused significant pain and hindered his movements. His teeth had  a well-defined pipe facet from carrying a tobacco pipe between his teeth on the right side of his mouth. The cause of the man’s death could not be determined.

The child, of unknown gender, likely died between the ages of 5 and 6 years. Copper alloy staining on the left temple suggests the child may have been wrapped in a burial shroud held in place with a copper alloy pin. The teeth show evidence of malnutrition or a significant illness, such as influenza. However, this did not contribute to the child’s death.

Figure 4: Procession from Asbury UMC to the St. Anne’s Cemetery for reburial. Photo credit: Janice Hayes-Williams
Figure 4: Procession from Asbury UMC to the St. Anne’s Cemetery for reburial. Photo credit: Janice Hayes-Williams

On November 1, 2019, Maryland’s Emancipation Day, following a community ceremony at Asbury UMC, these two individuals were laid to rest for a second time in St. Anne’s Cemetery in Annapolis (Figures 4 and 5).

While MHT does not encourage the excavation of human remains, there are times when burials are threatened and must be removed, as with the case of the Smith Price family cemetery. Today, unlike in 1980, immediate relocation or reburial of disturbed human remains is now the preferred course of action, rather than being placed in the care of the State. On the occasion that human remains do end up in MHT’s custody, they are placed in a specially designated area, known as an appropriate place of repose, apart from the State’s other collections. This area is only accessible by MHT staff and is not visible to the public.

I consider the care of these individuals a sacred responsibility and one of the most important duties I have as Curator. However, if I am given the opportunity to help facilitate the return and reburial of human remains in MHT’s custody, I am honored to do so. Being able to participate in the preparation of the human remains, as well as the transfer and reburial ceremonies, was an experience which I will not soon forget.

Figure 5: Smith Price family cemetery remains returned to the earth at St. Anne’s Cemetery in Annapolis. Photo credit: Janice Hayes-Williams
Figure 5: Smith Price family cemetery remains returned to the earth at St. Anne’s Cemetery in Annapolis. Photo credit: Janice Hayes-Williams

Announcing FY2020 AAHPP grant recipients!

We are pleased to announce the FY2020 African American Heritage Preservation Program (AAHPP) grant recipients! Twelve projects were awarded funding for preservation projects throughout the state. Jointly administered by the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture and the Maryland Historical Trust, the AAHPP provides capital funds to assist in the preservation of buildings, sites, or communities of historical and cultural importance to the African American experience in Maryland. The Commission and MHT are excited to support these projects, which include unique sites such as a World War II memorial park, an early 20th century bowling alley, a historic swimming pool, and tunnels that were part of the Underground Railroad.  Read more about all our newly funded projects below.

If you are planning to apply for funding for a project, the FY2021 grant round will begin in the spring of 2020, with workshops in April and applications due in July. For more information about the AAHPP, please contact Charlotte Lake, Capital Grant and Loan Program Administrator, at charlotte.lake@maryland.gov. For information about organizations receiving grants, please contact the institutions directly.

Project: Sotterley Plantation: Slave Cabin – Hollywood, St. Mary’s County ($78,000) Sponsor: Historic Sotterley, Inc.

Sotterley Plantation is a 1703 Tidewater plantation with more than 20 original buildings still standing. After its restoration, the 1830s slave cabin was dedicated to Agnes Kane Callum, a Baltimore resident whose great-grandfather was born enslaved at Sotterley, and who was instrumental in telling the story of Sotterley’s enslaved community. The grant project will include repairs to the cabin as well as accessibility improvements to the paths leading to it.

Project: Fairmount Heights World War II Monument –Prince George’s County ($12,250) Sponsor: Town of Fairmount Heights

The Fairmount Heights World War II Monument was built in 1946 to honor local citizens who served in the armed forces during World War II. The grant project will include repairs to the monument and site improvements within the park.

Project: Liberty Grace Church of God: Bowling Alley – Baltimore City ($100,000) Sponsor: Liberty Grace Church of God, Inc.

Liberty Grace Church of God was built in 1922 and has an early 20th century bowling alley in its basement. This historic bowling alley will be restored to working order. Read more about the bowling alley in our earlier blog post!

Project: Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church – Cambridge, Dorchester County ($100,000) Sponsor: Eastern Shore Network for Change, Inc.

The Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church was constructed in 1903 and is the oldest African American church still standing in Cambridge. This grant will fund structural repairs to the church, as well as repairs to windows and doors.

Project: Emmanuel Episcopal Church: Tunnels – Cumberland, Allegany County ($100,000) Sponsor: Emmanuel Episcopal Parish Incorporated

Emmanuel Episcopal Church was built atop the remains of Fort Cumberland, forming a series of tunnels beneath the church that eventually came to be used as shelter by African Americans escaping slavery on the Underground Railroad. Local oral traditions describe a quilt panel with a cross on a hill representing Emmanuel Episcopal Church as a stop on the road to freedom. This project will improve lighting and ventilation in the tunnels, as well as improve accessibility for visitors touring the tunnels.

Project: Warren Historic Site: Warren United Methodist Church and Martinsburg Negro School – Dickerson, Montgomery County ($100,000) Sponsor: Warren Historic Site Committee, Inc.

The Warren Historic Site is likely the last in Maryland where the traditional triad of buildings constructed in most post-Emancipation African American communities – the church, school, and lodge hall – still exist. The grant project will include roof and foundation repairs on the church, as well as roof, foundation, and floor repairs on the school.

Project: McConchie One-Room School – La Plata, Charles County ($99,000) Sponsor: Charles County Fair, Inc.

The McConchie School was constructed around 1912 to serve African American children in central Charles County. The school was closed in 1952, was converted to a residence, and had been abandoned by 1980. The Charles County Fair purchased and moved the building to the fairgrounds in 1990. The grant project will include structural repairs so that the school can continue to be used as a museum.

Project: Zion United Methodist Church – Federalsburg, Caroline County ($100,000) Sponsor: Zion ME Church

Zion Methodist Episcopal Church was built in 1931 and features stained glass windows and ornamental woodwork on its tower. The grant will fund accessibility and drainage improvements to the site, as well as structural repairs to the building.

Project: Robert W. Johnson Community Center: Swimming Pool – Hagerstown, Washington County ($100,000) Sponsor: Robert W Johnson Community Center, Inc.

In 1959, the North Street Swimming Pool was constructed as part of the Robert W. Johnson Community Center in Hagerstown’s Jonathan Street Neighborhood. It was the only pool in the city where African Americans could swim, and the pool itself is relatively unchanged since it was built. The grant project will repair the swimming pool so that it can be returned to community use.

Project: Ellsworth Cemetery – Westminster, Carroll County ($65,000) Sponsor: Community Foundation of Carroll County, Incorporated

Six African American Union Army veterans established the Ellsworth Cemetery in 1876 to provide a burial place for the African American residents of Westminster. The grant project will include mapping of the cemetery and conservation of grave markers.

Project: Asbury M.E. Church – Easton, Talbot County ($100,000) Sponsor: Historic Easton, Incorporated

Asbury M.E. Church was dedicated by Frederick Douglass in 1878. The church also served as a temporary high school for Black students in the 1930s and is now both an active church and a community center. Grant funding will be used to make structural repairs and accessibility upgrades to the fellowship hall within the church.

Project: Fruitland Community Center, Wicomico County ($44,000) Sponsor: Fruitland Community Center, Inc.

In 1912 local community members built the Morris Street Colored School, now known as the Fruitland Community Center, for Wicomico County’s African American children. The building is still used for educational purposes, with summer and after school programs for children as well as an archive. The grant project will include roof replacement, accessibility improvements, and upgrades to the electrical and mechanical systems of the building.

Hidden in Plain Sight: The Fort Frederick Colored School

By Peter Morrill, Curator Program Manager, Department of Natural Resources

Along the south side of Big Pool Road in Washington County, Maryland, sits a non-descript vacant house.  It’s easily overlooked by passersby, but hidden beneath additions, layers of asphalt “brick” and aluminum siding, lies a 19th-century one-room schoolhouse built to serve the area’s African American community.  Though it is not immediately recognizable by the casual observer as a school, a closer look reveals that much of the school’s original fabric remains intact and waiting to be restored in order to tell its story about Maryland’s racially segregated past and one of the county’s most interesting families.

The Fort Frederick Colored Schoolhouse, or the Williams Schoolhouse as it is also known, survives despite later alterations, including the porch and two-story addition at right.

In 1857 Nathan Williams, a free black man, purchased about 115 acres of land in Washington County, including the remains of the colonial Fort Frederick, and began what would become a successful farming operation.  Beginning in the 1870s, the family operated a schoolhouse for local African American children; family members also taught at the school.  By 1892, a 36’ by 24’ by 12’ frame school had been constructed by the county and was designated the “colored” school for the Indian Springs Election District, #11.  The teacher was Charles A. Williams, and the school enrolled 14 pupils.  By 1895, it was determined that this schoolhouse was unsatisfactory and that a new one should be built.  For $3, the Williams family deeded a quarter-acre parcel of their land to the county for the erection of a new school.  This school was completed by 1900 for a cost of $297.76 and remained in service until 1914, when it became a residence.  Over the years, the original one-room schoolhouse became virtually unrecognizable: the door was relocated, porches were added, and the interior was divided into three rooms.  A two-story addition was also added to the west, further obscuring the tiny school’s historic form.  The house has long been known as the Hornbaker House after the family who owned the house from 1950 until 1973, when they sold it to the State for inclusion into Fort Frederick State Park, which had been formed in 1922.  The Maryland Department of Natural Resources rented the property as a residence for a number of years, but it is now vacant.

DNR staff, including Charlie Mazurek, Historic Preservation Planner (second from left), and Peter Morrill, Curator Program Manager (right), have been instrumental in raising awareness of the importance of this structure and in seeking funding for its preservation.

Thanks to a generous grant from the African American Heritage Preservation Program[AR1] , donations from the Friends of Maryland State Parks and the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Department of Natural Resources will begin to peel back the layers and restore the schoolhouse to its circa 1900 to 1914 appearance.  In collaboration with staff from the Maryland Historical Trust, selective demolition has been carried out to begin to identify the original locations of windows and doors, identify later additions to the structure, and document these changes prior to the beginning of restoration work.  In the coming months, later additions will be removed and the exterior of the schoolhouse will be returned to its former appearance for the first time in over 100 years.  Once complete, the school will serve as a gateway to Fort Frederick State Park and an educational center to interpret the rich history of the Williams Family and the experience of African American families living in Washington County after the Civil War and emancipation.


.

Curator Program Manager Peter Morrill looks for physical evidence
of the schoolhouse’s historic form and finishes.

Further reading:

Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties form: https://mht.maryland.gov/secure/medusa/PDF/Washington/WA-V-206.pdf

Preservation Maryland Six-to-Fix: Historic Resources in Maryland’s State Parks: https://www.preservationmaryland.org/programs/six-to-fix/projects/current-projects/historic-resources-in-marylands-state-parks/

 [AR1]Link to: https://mht.maryland.gov/grants_africanamerican.shtml


Maryland in Concert

By Lara Westwood, Librarian, Maryland Historical Trust

Woodstock nearly came to Maryland this summer. Organizers of the 50th anniversary celebration of the legendary music festival of August 15th through 18th, 1969 attempted to move the event from Bethel Woods Center for the Arts in New York to Merriweather Post Pavilion in Howard County in a last ditch effort to save the show. But plans never quite came together. Several of the big name acts, including Miley Cyrus and Jay-Z, dropped out, and the show was canceled. Even without hosting the legendary Woodstock, Maryland has a rich musical history, and many concert venues, theaters, and related structures are listed on the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties

Knabe opened this piano factory in 1861. After the company moved production out of state, the factory was purchased by Maryland Baking Company and its subsidiaries.

Music has always been a vital part of culture in Maryland. Each Native American tribe that settled the Chesapeake Bay area had its own musical style and rituals. Enslaved people and free Africans brought their native traditions to the colony which spurred the development of new styles and genres. Colonial elites often hosted performances in the drawing rooms of their plantations, while the popular music, such as ballads and dance music, could be heard in the taverns. Francis Scott Key’s poem, “The Defense of Fort McHenry”–today called “The Star-Spangled Banner” and arguably Maryland’s most famous contribution to American music history–became popular after it was set to a well-known drinking tune. As the colony developed, concert halls and theaters were opened and musical social clubs were formed in the cities and larger towns.

The Peabody Institute is located near the Washington Monument in Baltimore.

By the mid-1800s and into the 1900s, Maryland had developed a strong musical culture. Baltimore saw several notable musical institutions established during this time. In the 1830s, William Knabe, a German immigrant, opened his piano repair and sales company. In partnership with Henry Gaehle, the company began manufacturing square, upright, and grand pianos. The partnership eventually ended. By 1861, Knabe built a new, larger factory on Eutaw Street after two of his other manufacturing locations burned and to accommodate the business’ growth. The factory operated until 1929 when new owners moved production to New York state. The Peabody Institute was founded in 1857. The city of Baltimore opened an academy of music as well as a free library and gallery of art in the Mount Vernon neighborhood with $300,000 donated by businessman and philanthropist George Peabody. One of the country’s best music schools, it became part of Johns Hopkins University in 1977. The Music Hall on Mount Royal Avenue opened in 1894 to much fanfare as the city had been without a major performance venue after the Concordia Opera House burned down. The first concert season promised to be of the “finest class” and promised to attract visitors to the city.[1] The Boston Symphony Orchestra, accompanied by several renowned opera singers, including soprano Nellie Melba, kicked off the inaugural season. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra also regularly played concerts at the venue. The hall was purpose-built as a concert venue, designed for acoustic quality, but also hosted other theatrical events and was available for balls and banquets. Otto Kahn, an investment banker and patron of the arts, purchased the hall in 1909 and changed the name to the Lyric Theatre. The theater changed hands several times and was nearly torn down in 1903 to make way for a garage. The theater has undergone extensive renovations over the years, and is now known as the Patricia & Arthur Modell Performing Arts Center at The Lyric.

The exterior of the Lyric has undergone extensive renovations. Pictured here is the Maryland Avenue facade in 1984. 
The Lyric’s stage area remains largely unchanged.

Maryland also boasted several stops on what would become known as the Chitlin’ Circuit. In the era of segregation and Jim Crow laws, African American performers often played in venues where they would otherwise be barred from patronizing. The theaters and other performance spaces on the circuit, on the other hand, welcomed both black artists and audiences. Arthur Wilmer converted a Prince George’s County tobacco farm into one of the premier venues on the circuit. Wilmer’s Park in Brandywine hosted the likes of Patti LaBelle, Chuck Berry, James Brown, and Sam Cooke. Wilmer booked many famous artists before their careers took off. The park, which opened in the early 1950s, featured a dancehall, motel, restaurant, picnicking grounds, and ball fields. Music events were held at the park until it closed in the 1990s and has since fallen into disrepair. The Improved Benevolent Protective Order of Elks of the World, more commonly known as the Black Elks, operated a similar venue at John Brown’s headquarters, also called Kennedy Farm in Sharpsburg, Washington County. Abolitionist John Brown orchestrated his raid on the federal armory in Harper’s Ferry from the farm in October of 1859. He and his followers stockpiled weapons at the farm in the months leading up to the raid. Almost 100 years later, the African American fraternal organization purchased it with the intent of establishing a national headquarters complete with a youth center, retirement home, tennis courts, and other amenities, as well as a national shrine and museum to honor Brown. It became a popular weekend destination for black residents of western Maryland and West Virginia and attracted many famous artists to play at the dancehall. James Brown performed the last concert there in 1966, just before the camp closed and the Elks sold the property. 

Since it closed in 1999, Wilmer’s Park has fallen into disrepair. The main building and restaurant can be seen here.
An interior view of the main hall at Wilmer’s Park showcases a mural commemorating building’s musical legacy.

The Baltimore Civic Center, now known as Royal Farms Arena, has hosted several historic concerts since it opened in 1962. The futuristic, Googie-style arena was built in an effort to revitalize the city’s downtown and served as a multi-purpose entertainment space. The Baltimore Bullets and Clippers called the Civic Center home court and ice, respectively, during the 1960s and early 1970s, and the Ringling Brothers Circus regularly performed there. Martin Luther King, Jr. also gave speeches at the Center in 1963 and 1966. The 1964 Beatles concerts cemented the venue in music history. The band played two shows on September 13 to a packed house. Beatlemania was at full froth. A large contingent of Baltimore City police officers had to be stationed outside the band’s hotel before the show. Two female fans apparently unsuccessfully tried to meet the Fab Four by mailing themselves to the arena in boxes marked “fan mail” before the show. Once the band took the stage, even greater pandemonium ensued. The Baltimore Sun described the scene at one of the shows: “The enormous cavern of the building had become a vibrant, pulsating shrine with waves of shrieking adulation that burst with concussive force.”[2] Several concert-goers had to be treated for “hysterics” and fainting, according to the same article. A few years later, a Led Zeppelin appearance nearly caused a riot when 200 people without tickets to the show attempted to rush the doors of the arena. Ten people were arrested as a result. This and other raucous rock concerts led the city to attempt to limit shows that would “[appeal] to young people” to afternoons and require promoters to hire more security.[3] The evening concert ban was eventually lifted, and the venue continues to host a wide variety of events every year. 

The house at Kennedy Farm, or John Brown’s Headquarters, pictured before extensive renovations were undertaken to return the structure to its original form.

Maryland’s musical legacy continues to grow. More concert venues are being studied for their architectural and historical significance, and notable concert events will assuredly continue to be held across the state. 

Large billboards now line the exterior of the Baltimore Civic Center or Royal Farms Arena, but little else has been changed over the years. 

Sources:

[1] “The Music Hall.” Baltimore Sun, Oct. 29, 1894: p. 4. 

[2] Levine, Richard H. “Thousands See Beatles Shake Civic Center”. Baltimore Sun, Sept. 14, 1964, p. 38.

[3] O’Donnell, Jr., John B. “Rock Shows To Be Limited To Afternoon.” Baltimore Sun, May 7, 1970: p. C22.

“Baltimore Symphony.” Baltimore Sun, Oct. 5, 1898.

Borha, Imade. “John Brown To James Brown.” The Frederick News Post, Dec. 31,  2016. 

Commission for Historical & Architectural Preservation. “Baltimore Civic Center (B-2365).” Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties Form. Maryland Historical Trust, 1976.

Engineering Science, Inc. “William Knabe & Co. Historic American Engineering Record Draft report.” Maryland Historical Trust. 

“George Peabody.: Death of the Great Philanthropist–His Last Hours Passed in London–His Career and Benefactions.” New York Times, Nov. 5, 1869.

Goodden, Joe. “Live: Civic Center, Baltimore.” The Beatles Bible.

Hildebrand, David, Elizabeth M Schaaf, and William Biehl. Musical Maryland. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017. 

History.” Knabe Pianos, Samick Music Corporation.

History of the Peabody Institute.” Our History, Johns Hopkins University.

Hopkinson, Natalie. “The End of an Era?: Wilmer’s Park Played Host to Much History, But the Future of the Brandywine Venue Is Unclear After the Death of Its Owner.” The Washington Post, Aug. 18, 1999.

Hopkinson, Natalie. “Music, Memories at Wilmer’s.” The Washington Post, Aug. 18, 1999.

John Brown’s Headquarters“. 2019. Aboard The Underground Railroad.

John Brown Raid Headquarters.

Kaltenbach, Chris. “Baltimore got a whole lotta love from Led Zeppelin.” Baltimore Sun, July 13, 2017.

Levy, Benjamin. “Kennedy Farm (WA-III-030).” Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties Form. Maryland Historical Trust, 1973.

The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. African American historic and cultural resources in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Upper Marlboro: The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, 2012, pp.252-254.

Morrison, Craig. “Lyric Theatre (B-106).” Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties Form. Maryland Historical Trust, 1985.

Patterson, Stacy. “Wilmer’s Park (PG:86B-37).” Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties Form. Maryland Historical Trust, 2009.

Peabody Institute Conservatory and George Peabody Library (B-967).” Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties Form. Maryland Historical Trust, 2002.

“To open the Music Hall.” Baltimore Sun, Oct. 16, 1894: p. 8. 

Weis, Robert and Dennis Zembala. “William Knabe & Co. (B-1006).” Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties Form. Maryland Historical Trust, 1980. 

Yu, Richard K. “Chitlin’ Circuit: Blues Culture and American Culture”. Medium, April 2, 2018.

Suffrage Leader Augusta Chissell to Be Inducted into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame

By Kacy Rohn, Planner, City of College Park and Heather Barrett, Administrator of Research and Survey, Maryland Historical Trust

On March 21st at the Miller Senate Office Building in Annapolis, Augusta T. Chissell will be inducted into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame, joining seven other notable women honored for their achievements and contributions to the State.

Maryland women suffragists played an important role in the passage of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote in 1920. State suffrage leaders, including Augusta T. Chissell, developed a robust network of grassroots organizations across Maryland, greatly shaping the fight for women’s rights. While the work of these activists has largely been forgotten, this is particularly true for African American suffragists, who were excluded from prominent suffrage organizations and omitted from newspaper coverage and organizational records. Early twentieth-century African American suffragists’ work was particularly important at a time when Jim Crow laws sought to undermine hard-won civil rights.

Augusta T. Chissell

Augusta Chissell. Photo courtesy of Mark Young

Augusta Chissell was an important African American leader of the women’s suffrage movement in Baltimore City in the early twentieth century. Chissell had deep roots in Baltimore’s women’s clubs, which fostered leadership skills as they promoted causes including education, healthcare, and prohibition. She was an officer in Baltimore’s Progressive Women’s Suffrage Club and held a leadership position in the prominent Women’s Cooperative Civic League. Chissell, her neighbor Margaret Gregory Hawkins, and activist Estelle Young were part of a black middle class who lived and worked in neighborhoods now part of the Old West Baltimore Historic District. The close proximity of these organizations’ members, driven by residential segregation, made it convenient for them to hold meetings in their homes, and they often gathered at Chissell’s home on Druid Hill Avenue in Baltimore.

Augusta Chissell Home

Augusta T. Chissell’s home at 1534 Druid Hill Avenue in Baltimore

In the early twentieth century, the women’s suffrage movement began to secure the support of important state and national organizations. In 1914, the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs (NACWC) endorsed women’s suffrage, and local clubs and associations moved quickly to draw further public support by holding mass meetings. The first public meeting of the Women’s Suffrage Club drew a large and enthusiastic crowd to Grace Presbyterian Church in December 1915, and in 1916, the NACWC brought their biennial national convention to Baltimore, where the suffrage movement was a major topic of discussion.

Chissells

Dr. Robert G. and Augusta T. Chissell with great nephew, Mark Young (ca. 1960)

Following passage of the 19th Amendment, Chissell authored “A Primer for Women Voters,” a recurring column in the Baltimore Afro-American that offered guidance to new African American women voters. She organized training sessions for women at the neighborhood Colored Young Women’s Christian Association (CYWCA) after women got the vote, and later served as the Chair of the Women’s Cooperative Civic League and as Vice President of the Baltimore branch of the NAACP. The Women’s Club used the CYWCA to hold weekly ‘Citizenship Meetings’ for new women voters and ongoing lectures on voting and civic responsibility.

Augusta T. Chissell’s legacy endures in her former home at 1534 Druid Hill Avenue, where she lived during her decades of civic activism, and in the former CYWCA building at 1200 Druid Hill Avenue, where the Women’s Suffrage Club began hosting public meetings in 1915. As the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment approaches, Marylanders should honor and celebrate strong women like Augusta Chissell, whose decades of civic activism laid the groundwork for so many of us.

Tomorrow’s event is sold out, but the Maryland Historical Trust will post photos of the induction ceremony on social media. To explore the story of women’s suffrage in Maryland, visit MHT’s storymap “Maryland Women’s Fight for the Vote.” 

Forgotten Forefathers of Maryland (Guest Blog)

By Steven X. Lee

The greatest story never told in Maryland is the history of her free early African American people. From the fixed focus of slavery radiates Maryland African American history as it is documented and presented. But Maryland, as a Colony and a State, was home to the largest free black population prior to the Civil War, whose stories are equally significant. Their impact was profound and integral in the making of Maryland, and the nation. Yet this remarkable dimension of Maryland’s history, of a people’s heritage, is largely omitted in the Maryland education and historical milieu.

The history of Maryland’s African Americans does not begin with slavery.  It begins with free and indentured black passengers on the Ark and Dove 1634 landing upon the Maryland shore.  There were at least three men of African descent in the passenger manifest: John Price, Mimus and Mathias deSousa, who, like so many of their free and indentured white brethren on those ships, freely chose to blaze life anew in the Colony. (Not until 1642 did the first slave-ships arrive, marking slavery’s introduction.)  Thus from inception, the population and story of Maryland African Americans begins with, and grows from, free people.

Bannaky marker-z

Robert Bannaky Historical Marker, mounted on rock at the first intersection in the
Benjamin Banneker Historical Park, in Oella.

The contributions of Benjamin Banneker, first African American scientist, and the dedicated service of Jocko Graves, are icons often cited in the Early Maryland story. But these two Revolutionary War Era figures are typically presented as anomalies among a generally enslaved black population. In actuality there were thousands of free African American women and men across the state at that time. Benjamin Banneker’s parents, Robert and Mary Bannaky, themselves were pioneer members of a burgeoning community of free blacks that came to be known as Mount Gilboa in Baltimore County. The Hill in Easton and Scott’s Point in Chestertown are but two more of the many vibrant free black communities rooted in Early Maryland.

Boyd Rutherford

Bethel A.M.E. Church, The Hill, Easton. From this very pulpit Frederick Douglass once addressed the congregation of this historic black church. Here, Maryland Lt. Governor Boyd Rutherford speaks from it on February 27th, 2016.

There have been historians who purposely sought to encourage a balanced view of the early Maryland African American experience.  There’s the work of historian Reverend George Bragg of Baltimore, who recorded the legacy of both free and enslaved African Americans in his 1914 book Men of Maryland (including accounts of women as well).  There were oral histories told by the late-20th/early-21th century griot, Jacqueline Lanier, who regularly infused accounts of Maryland’s free early African Americans throughout her storytelling and lectures. But, by and large, the conventional cast for early Maryland African American history has been one-dimensional, around the focal point of enslaved people.

Cannon St. A 4.17

Cannon Street, Scott’s Point of Chestertown. From late 18th century onwards, many prominent free African Americans resided on this street, including the wealthy African American businessman, Thomas Cuff.

With the realization that there were multitudes of free African Americans residing in Revolutionary War Era Maryland, it defies reason to accept the conventional depiction of black people essentially as slaves with peripheral lives, during this momentous period. What truly were the lives, the roles, the contributions of free African Americans to the rise of Maryland and the United States of America?  Certainly this is one of the missing chapters in the greatest Maryland story never told.

The American Revolution was a time of heroic exploits and battles, exceptional sacrifice and camaraderie, of multi-cultural colonists bonding to forge our State and Union. But as I went from K through 12, not one of my Maryland schoolbooks taught that among those many valiant soldiers, were free Maryland African Americans serving in the Revolutionary War.

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Jacqueline Lanier (1947 – 2003) – Collector, storyteller and jazz historian WEAA radio host.

Maryland African Americans served at all levels of defense: in the civilian guard, state militia, and Continental Army. General George Washington and the governor came to remove all barriers to African American enlistment, calling upon those free and enslaved to help meet depleted troop quotas faced in the Continental Army and the Maryland Line.  In July of 1780, during the drive to raise troops in St. Mary’s County, Richard Barnes, son of Colonel Abraham Barnes, wrote in a correspondence to Maryland Governor Thomas Lee: “Our recruiting business in this County goes on much worse than I expected. … The greatest part of those that have enlisted are free Negroes & Mulattoes.” [1]

In one instance of Charles County, six “Mulatto” men, all appearing to be of the same family, registered. [2]  Charles, Francis, Henry, Leonard, Thomas and William were all ‘Proctors’ who enlisted at the same place and time.  That was a most substantial sacrifice for any family to give to a war.

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“We have undertaken to present … in addition to the historical sketches given, some important data throwing light upon the history of “black slaves”, and “free blacks”, in Maryland…” 
 – Rev. George F. Bragg, excerpt from his book MEN OF MARYLAND, 1914

Of the services and sufferings of the colored soldiers of the Revolution, no attempt has, to our knowledge, been made to preserve a record.  Their history is not written; it lies upon the soil watered with their blood: who shall gather it?” [3]  These were the words of publisher, librarian and teacher, William Howard Day in 1852, when he addressed ‘The National Convention of the Colored Freemen’ held in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Sources vary in the total amount given for Maryland African American Revolutionary War soldiers. Estimates range from 1,200 to over 8,000 serving in battalions of the Continental Army, Maryland Line, as well as in the Maryland Flying Camp, which reportedly had at least six black servicemen in 1776.  The First Maryland Brigade had at least 60 African American troops serving that year. [4]

RevolutionaryWar Soldier (1) (1)It will take a concerted effort to truly restore the histories of Maryland’s unsung black soldiers, to unbury and compile the many scattered, overlooked vestiges of records, artifacts and stories.  It was thanks to a found 1828 newspaper obituary that the bravery and many battle exploits of Thomas Carney were recovered – a black Maryland Revolutionary War superhero, highlighted in a 1989 Maryland Historical Magazine article by William Calderhead. [5]

Free African Americans just as earnestly defended the new nation on the civilian front.  Early in the war General Washington proposed hiring free black wagoners from Maryland. [6] Equally integral and relevant was the role of free African American watermen, as the Chesapeake Bay was a vital transportation and strategic battlefront. Hence Maryland’s free black watermen were employed, where their maritime and boat-building skills, knowledge of the Bay and its islands, were invaluable.

So interwoven and extensive was the role of free African Americans in Revolutionary War Era Maryland, that it gives pause as to how/why have they been omitted in education and history.  It is the call of the ancestors, to recall to life the lost songs and stories of those who are indeed forgotten forefathers of our nation.  The history of Maryland is misunderstood and incomplete without them.

Steven X. Lee serves on the Maryland Commission of African American History and Culture and is the Program Director of The Heritage Museum. He also served as the Founding Director of the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum.

All photo credits are the author’s unless otherwise indicated.

References

[1]  Richard Barnes to Governor Lee, July 23,1780, Archives of Maryland XLV, 24  /  The Negro in the American Revolution, p. 56, Benjamin Quarles, 1961

[2]  Forgotten Patriots, Daughters of the American Revolution 2008

[3]  “Proceeding of the Convention of Colored Freemen”, Cincinnati Ohio,1852  /  The Black Phalanx, 21, Joseph T. Wilson, 1994

[4]  “Finding the Maryland 400”, the Maryland State Archives  /  Muster Rolls and other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution, Archives of Maryland Online vol.18, and fold3.com

[5]  William L. Calderhead, MARYLAND HISTORICAI. MAGAZINE vol. 84, no. 4, WINTER 1989, 319-321

[6]  Headquarter to the Committee of Congress with the Army, Jan. 29, 1778, Fitzpatrick, ed., Writings of Washington, X, 401  /  The Negro in the American Revolution, p. 100, Benjamin Quarles, 1961

Celebrating Cambridge Heroines: Women at the Frontlines of Social Change

By Jessica Brannock, Communications Intern

Standing on the steps of the Cambridge Courthouse in 1963, Gloria Richardson addressed a crowd of reporters. As the leader of the Cambridge Movement, Richardson spoke of the ongoing efforts to desegregate the city’s school systems and ensure better jobs and housing for the African-American community. Today, this historic image of Richardson is commemorated in the Local African-American Heritage Mural in Cambridge, Maryland.

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Initial and completed stages of the Local African-American Heritage Mural in Cambridge, Maryland. Images provided by Michael and Heather Rosato, edited with permission.

The piece is one of several murals created by artist Michael Rosato along the Chesapeake Country Mural Trail. The placement of each figure is significant to the reading of the mural and the community’s story. “Everything radiates out from Harriet [Tubman] in the middle, she’s the foundation of that whole community,” Rosato said. “She’s the inspiration for freedom and respect, just an incredible woman.”

In recent years, Harriet Tubman has received local and national recognition with the opening of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park and Visitor Center in Dorchester County, Maryland.

While prominent characters like Tubman, Richardson, and even Ella Fitzgerald can be picked out of the crowd, each figure stands on their own. Spotlights of the community’s history flow from left to right, with the last image featuring a modern-day athlete from Cambridge South Dorchester High School. “I wanted the modern kids to have a sense of ownership too, to feel that they are a part of the story,” Rosato said. “Their future is going to be the history of Cambridge.”

Today, the legacy of the Cambridge Movement is not mired in the past but has taken off with a new wave of activism and 21st century leaders. Co-founders of the Eastern Shore Network for Change (ESNC), Kisha Petticolas and Dion Banks have led community initiatives to continue the work of Gloria Richardson and bring people together.

Petticolas and Banks met in 2012 while campaigning for the re-election of Mayor Victoria Jackson- Stanley—the first African-American and woman elected Mayor of the City of Cambridge, Maryland. “Through our work at the ESNC, Dion [Banks] and I have found that the one thing that seems to constantly block this community from moving forward is failing to acknowledge our painful history concerning race,” Petticolas said.

In the summer of 2017, the ESNC hosted Reflections on Pine, a series of events that commemorated the Cambridge Movement and created a community-wide platform to discuss the incidents that lead to the burning of Pine Street in 1967. One event included a public interview with Richardson—now in her nineties, where she shared her experiences leading the movement. While Richardson succeeded in securing freedoms for the Cambridge community, many of the same economic and social issues are still felt today. The fight is not over. “I do this work because I believe everyone deserves to have the same basic opportunities in life,” Petticolas said. “We all deserve to be educated, employed, well paid for the work that we do, live in a home that is clean and safe, and to be respected for who we are.”

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Co-founders of the Eastern Shore Network for Change, Kisha Petticolas (left) and Dion Banks (right) pose for a photo with Gloria Richardson (center) during Reflections on Pine in 2017 [Image credit ESNC].

For over a century, women in Dorchester County have fought for social change, leaving legacies which propelled succeeding generations into new waves of activism and opportunity. “I am just a link in a chain that started hundreds of years ago by a woman whose name I will never know and I certainly will not be the last link,” said Petticolas. “I am hopeful that through our work at ESNC we are able to find the next link in the chain, and wouldn’t it be nice if she could be the last link?”