African-American historical sites that are passed by daily with little notice captured the spotlight on Feb. 16 during the third annual African-American Heritage Bus Tour.
Some 220 people spent more than three hours exploring historic sites in three of Prince George's County's historically black townships – Fairmount Heights, Glenarden and North Brentwood – and surrounding areas.
The tour was sponsored by the Washington Informer Newspaper in partnership with Prince George's African American Museum & Cultural Center, the DC Lottery, Pepco, Capitol Entertainment Services, the Coca-Cola Co., Industrial Bank, Harlem Remembrance Foundation, THEARC and Southwest Airlines.
"If we don't accent our history, who will?" said Fairmount Heights Mayor Lillie Thompson Martin, who served as a tour guide on one of the six buses.
Martin, a lifelong resident of Fairmount Heights which is one of the oldest and largest African-American communities in the county, tossed aside a tour script saying, "I always talk from my heart."
As the bus slowly rolled through one neighborhood, she pointed out sites such as the Pittman house on Eastern Avenue, which was the family home of architect William Sidney Pittman and his wife Portia, the daughter of Booker T. Washington. The Pittman's were among the earliest families to settle in Fairmount Heights.
The mayor said the town has an interest in purchasing and restoring the Pittman house.
Martin also pointed out houses whose historical significance were not obvious, such as one residence that once served as an elementary school and credit union and the town's first school for African-American children. Several had received historic register recognition.
"Some of these historic houses really need repair," said Martin. "It's not something that the town can do."
Among other places visited on the tour: Fairmount Height's World War II Memorial, Glenarden Community Center, Woodmore Towne Center, Ridgeley Rosenwald School and the Prince George's African American Museum & Cultural Center.
Glenarden's mayor, Gail Parker Carter, was also a tour guide on another bus. Glenarden, mostly farmland in the early 1900s, was initially marketed to black rail workers. Initially, all but three of the 25 households were headed by African Americans.
Carmen Robles-Inman of the District said she attended the tour as part of a personal commitment to take in five to six events during Black History Month.
Sean Wilson, 18, of Cedar Heights, said his motivation in taking the tour was to learn more about other parts of the county.
"I'm really in awe," he said halfway through the tour. He said he was surprised to learn about the homes in Fairmount Heights that were ordered through Sears-Roebuck and Co.'s mail-order catalog and then assembled by individuals with the help of family and friends.
At the Ridgeley Rosenwald School in Capitol Heights, adults and children explored the restored facility that was originally constructed in 1927 to educate African-American children.
LaVerne Gray, whose grandmother donated the land where the school stands, was one of several volunteers who welcomed the visitors and talked about its place in history.
Gray, who attended first grade at the school, described Ridgeley Rosenwald as "built on the backs of ex-slaves" and said it reflects how a rural African-American community came together.
Upon reboarding the bus, Martin said she wasn't familiar with the school and had discovered something new.
"I thought it was very informative," said Martin. "I think it's something we should start scheduling groups of students to come in and take a look, revisit how things were so they can appreciate what they have today."
The day kicked off at the THEARC Theater in Southeast with breakfast, video presentations about the county and the community and a riveting and at times gut-wrenching portray of abolitionist Harriet Tubman by actress Gwendolyn Briley-Strand. She prepared the audience for an imaginary journey on the Underground Railroad telling them, "Once we get started ain't no turning back. We have to move or die even if I have to shoot you myself."
Danielle Kittrell of Upper Marlboro was the winner of a drawing and received two roundtrip tickets from Southwest Airlines.
The Washington Informer Newspaper was presented with a decree from a representative of Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker proclaiming Feb. 16 as Washington Informer African- American Heritage Day in the county.
Denise Rolark Barnes, publisher of the newspaper, spoke of her pride in the area's African-American community.
"I get so emotional sometimes because I just love my people," said Barnes. "I really do."