Black HistoryCommunity

Montgomery County Opens the Door to African-American Culture

Where to start with Heritage Days in Montgomery County, Md.? Thirteen of 40 sites give a close-up look of African American history in Maryland during a free two-day event from June 23-24.

Visitors will find educational tours, historic talks, and walks through buildings where slaves and freed men and women survived under difficult circumstances.

One of the stops along the Harriet Tubman-led Underground Railroad is in the county and will be open during Heritage Days. The Underground Railroad Experience Trail at Woodlawn Manor Cultural Park in Sandy Spring shows how enslaved freedom seekers traveled through Montgomery County on their way to safety in the north.

“With all of the sites open for one weekend, people can visit historic places in their neighborhood they may not have known were there,” said Sarah L. Rogers, executive director at Heritage Montgomery, the organizing arm for Heritage Days.

Forty settlements were established by freed African Americans in Montgomery County. Within those settlements, the church was the central gathering place.

Three Heritage sites — St. Paul Community Church in Poolesville, the Warren Historic Site buildings in Dickerson and the Odd Fellows Lodge in Sandy Spring — have churches that also were schools and meeting places, all of which have been carefully restored and maintained for present-day use.

St. Paul Community Church built in 1893, also has a slave cemetery. Exhibits, reciting of oral histories, a display of artifacts, and viewing historical documents will take place at this church. The buildings at the Warren Historic Site date back to the 1860s with a church and an original one-room schoolhouse still in use. The newly renovated Odd Fellows Lodge has been a site for worship, social activities, and education for the African-American community since the early 1900s.

“The Odd Fellows Lodge is a brand-new site for Heritage Days,” Rogers said. “Laura Anderson Wright, president of our Heritage Montgomery board of directors, saw the Odd Fellows building falling down. She started writing grants and secured funds to restore it.”

Along with churches, the importance of education is felt at many Heritage sites. Boyds Negro School, a restored one-room structure, was the only public school for African Americans in the Boyds area from 1895-1936. Smithville School Museum and Education Center was a Rosenwald school built in the 1920s. During Heritage Days, the Smithville School will have an ongoing film screening about the school’s history and discussions with former students. Rosenwald schools were a partnership between Julius Rosenwald, part-owner and president of Sears, Roebuck and Company and educator, philanthropist and president of Tuskegee Institute Booker T. Washington.

Heritage Days also will open sites showing the living conditions for slaves in plantation settings and in homes of freed men and women. At the Sandy Spring Slave Museum, people will see a clipper ship where people can imagine the horrors of transporting Africans to work as slaves in America. Button Farm Living History Center in Germantown depicts plantation life in the 1850s. Walking through the Oakley Cabin African American Museum & Park in Olney and Harper Cabin at Brookside Nature Center in Wheaton, visitors will get a feel for how newly emancipated families lived.

Many people have visited the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture which has an extensive exhibit depicting the Middle Passage and how emancipated African Americans lived. Heritage Days also will display the history of the sacrifices made by slaves and freed men and women.

“You don’t have to go to downtown Washington, D.C., to capture area history,” Rogers said. “There is a lot of significant history in the county that contributes to the culture of the metropolitan area.”

Showing Montgomery County’s African-American history will offer more than reenactments, lectures and displays of artifacts. The Grant Langford Quintet will give a jazz concerts at the Odd Fellows Lodge. The Sandy Spring Slave Museum has will have a production that begins with a traditional drumming circle followed by gospel, call songs of the underground railroad, music of the civil rights movement, Caribbean sounds, jazz, and rhythm and blues.

Heritage Days is supported by the state of Maryland, Montgomery County and Comcast. Inside the Heritage Days brochure, the African American Heritage sites are marked with a yellow icon and include descriptions of what to expect at each location.

“Heritage Days offers relaxed family time for exploring,” Rogers said. “There are places to discover if you are new to the area or even if you have lived here for a while. You can go from the hustle and bustle of Takoma Park or Silver Spring and within 10 minutes you can be out in farm country.”

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