n. A practice, custom, or belief shared by the members of a group as part of their common culture. Often used in the plural - the ways of living, thinking, and acting in a human group, built up without conscious design but serving as compelling guides of conduct.
St. Mary's County has been historically one of the more "Southern" counties in Maryland in its racial attitudes. This reality is reflected in the fact that African Americans, who currently constitute 14% of the county population and comprised the majority during most of the nineteenth century, have been largely neglected in the official histories of the county. As the county that is the center of the 17th-century Maryland colony and site of its first capital, St. Mary's City, St. Mary's County has played a large role in the state's history and is the site of Historic St. Mary's City and other historical sites and museums. Throughout its history African Americans have played a prominent role in the life of the county, but one would not know it from visiting the county's museums or reading its histories. The Unified Committee for Afro-American Contributions (UCAC) brought about a significant corrective step forward with the building of the African American Monument in Lexington Park, Maryland in 2000, and, hopefully, another advancing step with this book.
African American life in the county has been particularly affect both positively and negatively by the establishment of the Naval Air Station at Patuxent River, Maryland in the 1940s. It displaced many African American residents and yet drastically improved their non-agricultural employment opportunities. It has also recently contributed to a rapid increase in the county's population and development. The oral histories that the UCAC has collected have served to capture what these twentieth century developments have meant to the African American community, and what contributions African Americans have made to county life. Both the general public and the African American community need to hear from what has definitely been an "alternative voice" in the life of the county - a voice that has only in the last generation begun to feel "free" to make its views and contributions known. Virtually all of our interviewees have been the product of a segregated community and have experienced a very rapid transition to the new order. Their experiences and views need to be known and preserved.
Reaching Out to America to Recognize and Record African American History Too much African American history resides only in memory. Too little has been recorded.
Over twenty years ago, Mr. Elmer Brown dreamed of a community that recognized the contributions of its African American members. Through the efforts of the organization (UCAC) he formed to promote that dream, today there is an African American Monument in the center of his community. In a nearby park there is a memorial statue to the Civil War United States Colored Troops. Dozens of oral histories from the area's oldest living black citizens have been recorded. A book now chronicles the experiences of those who lived through segregation. An annual Juneteenth Festival was begun and is now among the largest on the East Coast. UCAC has partnered with numerous local businesses and organizations, including the county libraries, the local chapter of the NAACP, the St. Mary's Public Schools, Sotterley Plantation and St. Mary's College.
It's time to expand Elmer Brown's dream. It's time to reach beyond the boundaries of one small Maryland county. Help us recognize the contributions of African Americans in your community, too. Help us record the history of ALL African Americans.
Share YOUR history. Share YOUR story.
If your story is short and sweet, please feel free to use the simple form below. If you'd like to send your story via Word doc, pdf or email, or if you'd like to speak with someone about doing an oral history interview, please contact us.
We hardly had a pen and a piece of paper to write on. A lot of the time, parents couldn't afford to buy composition books and pencils and stuff kids should have in school. Sometimes, some of the parents would, you know, buy pencils.
I just wave going down the road.
And [my friends] say, "Well who is that?"
"I don't know. I'm not sure. It's just, you know, somebody."
And, the people wave back. . . .
We went to the bank to try to borrow $500 to finish that house and we couldn't borrow it. And to me, we couldn't borrow it because we were Black.
In the Spring, [mother would] give us castor oil to clean us out. Sassaroot tea which was good. It tasted good. But that dog-gone castor oil [laughter]...
In our church we were forced to sit behind. You see that was frustrating. You look at that thing you say, "Look now here's an institution that's trying to follow Christian philosophy and you've got two sets of people in there - one Black and one White. Same church, same structure.
"…we went on, had the best we could with what we had."
We would have to push the boat off the shore or else, if the tide was high, we had to bail the boat out. And when it got to the other shore, we had to put boards down to get to the shore if the tide was low…we had no overshoes or rubbers or anything, you know, to protect the feet. Most of the time, we didn't have bottoms in the shoes. We put cardboard. Lucky if you had cardboard. You put newspaper, some kind of paper and then that was that. Used to change that when you got to school. You kneel down and say a prayer. The children push the pencils in the hole in your shows. Gracious me.
We hardly had a pen and a piece of paper to write on. A lot of the time, parents couldn't afford to buy composition books and pencils and stuff kids should have in school. Sometimes, some of the parents would, you know, buy pencils. I think they paid a penny or two cents for them. Course they would buy two or three extras so a kid that didn't have any would have a pencil. Many a time I seen a child break a pencil in two and give another child part of it.
They (teachers) shared what little bit they got. The community couldn't' afford it. The community as a whole basically was just surviving theirselves. Well, it wasn't bad. We didn't think it was bad, because that was all we knew so when you're not comparing one thing against the other, you know. I realized in later years how much we were missing, you know, as far as books and this type of thin in school, but at the time you made out with what you had because you didn't realize there was something better that you were supposed to have. …And we did learn to read and write and add and subtract, and so that's better than the old folks had it. My grandfather, he couldn't read or write, either one, you know, and to see the kids at least learning to read and write, I mean it was something that they were happy about.
We didn't have no wood to heat the school with, and we have to go out in the woods, pick up little twigs and anything that we thought would make a fire. And, the other thing, we could have learned, but we didn't because we was out in the woods picking up little wood to make a fire for getting warm. Some days, it takes you practically all day to get warm so that you could really settle yourself down. It was very, very hard on the boys. But, the girls didn't, to go out in the woods…get the wood. And when the school bought wood, the wood be green and it wouldn't burn. Very, very hard for us in the wintertime.
I wasn't able to get the education that I wanted. Why? Because my parents didn't have the money to send me to school. I finished up my education when I got in the Army, but I didn't learn too much because the teacher in the Army was different than the teacher that was out here. I had to come out of school for my sister to go to college. Parents didn't have any money to send me. I had to work on the farm to help my daddy to make the money for my sister to go to college. Which is, nine of us, two did get to go to college, and I…was nice.
I see where it's needed out here today. It'd be one of the main things I would change in my life is get more education because the work is much easier. You don't have education, you work hard and I did it to get where I'm at today. It was a hard thing to do.
...My parents didn't have much education. They just could write their name, and I felt that as children, they always said they want the children to have more education than they did. And, they tried to help us all they could help, and that's what they did for us. It was real hard on us. Had to come out of school some days to come home and help, but we had to do it in order to have a place to lay our head . . .
But one year got real bad and the crop didn't do so well, and he wasn't able to pay the mortgage. And then, the bank jumped right on him and next thing, they took the place and we were back renting again, and I thought that was awful bad. And, that went on for quite a few years and then again, he got offered to buy this place here. And during that time clock, we just wanted to go to college. And you know how old people just say, "Well, if she didn't go to college, she wasn't gonna do nothing no way!" Farther, she go to college, farther she'd go out and do something for herself. So then, I continue on being out of school to help them make more money so that he could buy this place and send Clarice to college. And, that's what's happened. I stayed out until I went in the Army and that's when I got my diploma. And, education is one of the things that I feel is needed today.
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