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Prince George's County Oral History Premiere

Mary Wells | 6/4/2009, 8 a.m.

Hundreds of guests crowded into the Publick Playhouse in Landover, Md., on Tues., May, 26 to celebrate the lives and achievements of 10 notable Prince Georgians, many of whom were former educators, and taught in the Prince George€s County School system during a special Prince George€s County Oral History Premiere presentation.

About 300 history buffs, family members and friends showed-up to salute the honorees as they shared personal recollections about their lives in a segregated state and the plight of their grandparents and great grandparents who were former slaves in Maryland €" and where an education was considered to be a privilege -- for a select few.

Although, the testimonials of the honorees were videotaped, guests remained glued to their seats as they watched the hour-long film that featured each of the honorees and their life stories.

€I served on the Orphans Court as a judge and later as a chief judge. I felt over the course of those 16 years, that they were the most enjoyable for me. I was providing a service to the people,€ said Lucy Warr, an 86-year-old honoree who lived on Reed Street in North Englewood, Md. Today, North Englewood is a part of Hyattsville.

€I am honored to be recognized by the people of Maryland. My [late] husband, Jesse worked very hard on various committees that included the NAACP. He served as chair of the education committee of the P.G. County NAACP in our community, and as president of the North Englewood Civic Association, when we first moved in here, in 1950,€ Warr said during a recent telephone interview from her home.

Warr was appointed by former Maryland Governor Harry Hughes in 1984 to the County Orphans Court as the first African American female judge in the County. Two years later, she was named Chief Judge -- a position she held until her retirement in 2001.

The oral history project started two years ago when June Dillard White, president of the Prince George's County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), contacted the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPCC) shortly after the 2007 Black History month celebrations ended.

White said that the NAACP organized a group of interested parties and engaged Samuel Parker, chair of the M-NCPPC in August of 2007. After the group€s initial meeting with Parker, they picked-up momentum and additional members, White said. The group developed the African American Heritage Trail which consists of 20 sites. Parker also provided the group with $20,000 to record oral histories.

€A list remains of more than 60 individuals whose oral histories have yet to be recorded. We also have a list of sites [that] we want M-NCPPC to purchase and renovate to preserve African American history in Prince George's County," White said.

Barbara F. Martin, another honoree, was born and raised in Fletcherstown, Md. She graduated from the Bowie €Normal€ School, known today as Bowie State University. Martin received her Master€s in elementary education from The Catholic University of America in Northeast. She retired from the Prince George's County Public School system in 1983 and is a lifetime member of the Prince George's County branch of the NAACP.

Sylvester J. Vaughns, past-president of the Prince George's County branch of the NAACP, was instrumental in the integration of Prince George's County Public Schools.

"Every school child should see a copy of this DVD and hear how these pioneers struggled to go to school and college in Prince George's County," said Mildred Jackson, a guest who attended the program.