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?”

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Preserving Chesapeake Heritage: Navigating the Tubman Landscape amid Rising Tides

By Jessica Brannock, Communications Intern

In 2007, roughly 17 acres of wetlands within Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) were dedicated to create the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad (HTUR) State Park. These lands and waterways where Tubman lived and worked as a young woman, enslaved by the Brodess family, make up just a fraction of the 25,000 acres of land in Dorchester County dedicated to the HTUR National Monument. While the park’s Visitor Center offers exhibits on the life and heroism of Tubman, the true monument to her legacy is the landscape itself—and it’s disappearing.

Over the course of a decade, Tubman returned to this landscape 13 times and guided 70 slaves to freedom. Hiding in the marshes by day and traveling by foot and boat at night, Tubman and other freedom seekers relied on their knowledge of Chesapeake waterways, plant, and animal life to survive the journey north.

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Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center, LEED silver certified, and constructed on higher ground to protect the building against rising sea levels.

Today, much of the wildlife found in the brackish tidal marshes and hardwood forests of Blackwater NWR are typical of what Tubman encountered over 150 years ago. However, preserving these habitats and heritage is an ever-present challenge as wetlands throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed are threatened by environmental change.

Current water levels in Blackwater NWR are much higher than when Tubman navigated the rivers and marshes to freedom. Since the NWR’s establishment in 1933, over 5,000 acres of wetlands have been lost to sea level rise.

Marshes act as buffers between land and water, filtering out toxins and absorbing the forces of storms and tides, and Tubman would have been familiar with the tidal rhythms that flooded the wetlands with saltwater and ebbed back with the flow of freshwater tributaries. As sea levels rise, however, saltwater mingles more heavily with fresh, destroying salt-sensitive plant-life as marshlands erode and give way to flooding. By the end of the century, climate science predicts that sea levels will rise in the Bay region between 3 and 4 feet.

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Patches of bare forest and exposed tree roots, destroyed by saltwater intrusion are reminders of rising tides, and the imminent loss of habitat that follows.

The HTUR Visitor Center was constructed with the vulnerability of the landscape in mind. The building is sustainably designed to LEED silver standards and includes bioretention ponds, rain barrels, and vegetative roofs. Located near the Little Blackwater River, where Tubman worked checking muskrat traps as a child, the site was strategically elevated, placing the building on higher ground—a precautionary measure against the accelerating rate of sea level rise. With nearly 300 acres of marsh within the NWR lost each year, the wetlands could be fully submerged by 2050.

Actions can be taken to slow the loss and preserve the landscape so valuable for its habitat and history. In 2017, the Conservation Fund, U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Audubon Society partnered to raise 40 acres of marshland within the NWR. This thin-layering process spread 26,000 cubic yards of sediment dredged from the Blackwater River across the wetlands, raising the marshes by 4-6 inches. Along with large scale tree and marsh grass planting, these efforts will help reduce the pace of flooding over the next decade.

As tides rise, the landscapes that hold our heritage will continue to suffer losses to their environmental and historical resources. In the coming years, we must acknowledge environmental threats and face them head on, so that future generations may continue to experience and interpret the legacy of our national treasures.

Historic Preservation Non-Capital Grants Awarded for FY 2018

After receiving over $1.1 million dollars in requests for research, survey and other non-capital projects, the Maryland Historical Trust awarded nine grants totaling $200,000 to nonprofit organizations and local jurisdictions throughout the state. Historic Preservation Non-Capital grants, made available through Maryland General Assembly general funds, support and encourage research, survey, planning and educational activities involving architectural, archeological and cultural resources.

The goal of the Historic Preservation Non-Capital Grant Program is to identify, document, and preserve buildings, communities and sites of historical and cultural importance to the State of Maryland. These grant funds have not been available since 2012, and thus, the Maryland Historical Trust identified several special funding priorities for the FY 2018 grant cycle, including:  broad-based and comprehensive archeological or architectural surveys; assessment and documentation of threatened areas of the state due to impacts of natural disasters and ongoing natural processes; and projects undertaking in-depth architectural or archeological study of a specific topic, time period, or theme. This year’s grant awards, listed below, ranged from $10,000 to $45,000.

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Preservation Maryland received a FY 18 grant for “Documenting Maryland’s Women’s Suffrage History.” Photograph: “Maryland Day” Pickets at White House, 1917. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division. Credit: Harris & Ewing. 

The availability of fiscal year 2019 non-capital grant funds will be announced in the spring of 2018 on the Maryland Historical Trust’s website, along with application deadlines and workshop dates.

For more information about the Historic Preservation Non-Capital Grant Program, please contact Heather Barrett, Administrator of Research and Survey, at 410-697-9536 or heather.barrett@maryland.gov.  For information about organizations receiving grants, please contact the institutions directly.

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The Somerset County Historical Trust, Inc. received funding to document threatened sites in Dorchester and Somerset counties. Photo of Smith Island house: Heather Barrett.

Somerset County Historical Trust, Inc. – Somerset and Dorchester Counties ($45,000)

Project work includes the completion of a historic sites survey of threatened sites in Somerset and Dorchester counties.

The Society for the Preservation of Maryland Antiquities, Inc./Preservation Maryland – Statewide Project ($20,000)

Project work includes research and educational activities related to the women’s suffrage movement in Maryland, including the development of new and updated National Register of Historic Places nominations and Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties forms for specific sites. This work is timely due to the upcoming 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote.

St. Mary’s College of Maryland – Prince George’s, Charles, Calvert, and St. Mary’s Counties ($45,000)

This project includes the survey and documentation of early domestic outbuildings in southern Maryland with high-resolution digital photography and measured drawings.

The Archeological Society of Maryland, Inc. – Frederick County ($13,500)

This project involves the preparation of a final report on multiple 20th and 21st century excavations at the prehistoric Biggs Ford site.

Anne Arundel County, Cultural Resources Division – Anne Arundel County ($17,500)

The project includes a review of heritage themes and sites in Anne Arundel County, which will result in a survey report on one major, underrepresented heritage theme and completion of new and updated Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties forms.

Historic St. Mary’s City – St. Mary’s County ($16,000)

This grant will fund a geophysical prospection effort to locate the 17th century palisaded fort erected by the first European settlers of Maryland.

The Archeological Society of Maryland, Inc. – Location Undetermined ($13,000)

This grant will provide the public the opportunity to participate in a supervised archeological excavation through the 2018 Tyler Bastian Field Session in Archeology. The specific site has not been identified yet, but this is an annual event supported by the Archeological Society of Maryland and the Maryland Historical Trust.

The Morgan Park Improvement Association, Inc. – Baltimore City ($10,000)

Project work includes the completion of a National Register nomination for Morgan Park, an African-American neighborhood in Baltimore with strong ties to Morgan State University.

Chesapeake Bay Watershed Archeological Foundation, Inc. – Dorchester County ($20,000)

Project work includes survey of the shoreline of the Honga River Watershed for undocumented prehistoric and historic sites and to supplement the Maryland Historical Trust’s data concerning previously documented sites.

A Story Map of Women’s Suffrage in Maryland

By Kacy Rohn, Graduate Assistant Intern

As a graduate student in the University of Maryland’s School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, I had the opportunity to spend over a year interning with the Maryland Historical Trust and to work on a personally significant project – documenting the Maryland women’s suffrage movement.

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Image from the Baltimore Sun article “Maryland Is Invaded,” which detailed the Elkton, Maryland stop on the 1913 suffragists’ march from New York to Washington, DC. 

Generously funded by the Maryland Historical Trust’s Board of Trustees, this special project allowed me to develop a history of the statewide women’s suffrage movement and to identify significant suffrage sites, a timely endeavor as we approach the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment. Before this research, we had little idea that that Maryland’s suffragists (a term they preferred to the derogatory “suffragette”) had been so active or that they had worked in dozens of hitherto forgotten places around the state. In previous blog posts (which can be found here and here), I highlighted two of these stories and two historic sites with previously overlooked connections to the movement.

Now, I’m excited to share one of my final projects: a story map that presents a chronological overview of the important places and milestones of the Maryland suffrage movement. This story ranges from the earliest beginnings of the movement to the final passage of the 19th Amendment, showcasing Maryland women’s dedication to this long fight.

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The women’s suffrage story map can be found on the Maryland Historical Trust website.

Though my internship has almost ended, I’m happy to see that this important project will continue. My research will be used by Maryland Historical Trust staff to nominate significant women’s suffrage sites to the National Register of Historic Places and will support other statewide efforts to preserve these sites and tell their stories.

Beyond the Right to Vote: African American Women of the Maryland Suffrage Movement

By Kacy Rohn, Graduate Assistant Intern

Augusta Chissell. Portrait

Augusta Chissell. Photo courtesy of Mark Young.

Stories of the Maryland women’s suffrage movement have been forgotten at many historic sites, but it’s possible to reconnect some of this history through sources like The Baltimore Sun and organizational chronicles of suffrage groups. Though these contain valuable information, they often omit the efforts of African American suffragists and the places where they worked. This erasure is a symptom of a larger divide in the suffrage movement: as racial tensions rose during Reconstruction, many white suffrage groups excluded women of color. Even though Maryland’s first suffrage organization, the Equal Rights Society, was founded by a racially diverse group in 1867, the dominant groups of the 20th century suffrage movement were led by white women who typically distanced themselves from women of color. Continue reading

Remembering Maryland Women’s Fight for the Vote

by Kacy Rohn, Graduate Assistant Intern

From February 7 to 13, 1906, thousands of activists from across the country gathered at the Lyric Theater in Baltimore to galvanize the movement for women’s suffrage. Leaders of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) arranged a busy program of speeches, musical performances, and prayer services that filled the theater. Despite this momentous gathering, our understanding of the Lyric’s historic significance lacks any reference to the women’s suffrage movement (as seen in our documentation of the site). This forgotten milestone is a prominent example of the hidden history of women’s suffrage that exists at many historic sites across Maryland.

Lyric Theater. 1906 Appearance

The Lyric Theater as shown in the 1906 NAWSA Convention booklet. Image: Miller NAWSA Suffrage Scrapbooks, 1897-1911 (Library of Congress)

NAWSA members assembled at the Lyric at a critical time. The founding women were aging out of active work and needed new recruits. Continue reading

Harriet Elizabeth Brown: “The Quiet Heroine of 1937”

By Michael Gayhart Kent, Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture

Harriet Elizabeth Brown

Harriet Elizabeth Brown

1937 was an explosive year in history.  On May 6, 1937, the Hindenburg airship ignited over New Jersey and crashed to the ground in flames.  The June 3, 1937 wedding of Wallis Simpson to the former King of England also shook the world, dominating the news until the shock of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance over the Pacific on July 2, 1937.  The most earth-shaking event for the black community in Maryland came on November 11, 1937, when Harriet Elizabeth Brown, a Black teacher at Mt. Hope Elementary School, filed a lawsuit against the Calvert County Board of Education.

Continue reading