Buildings and Landscapes as Connections to African-American Communities

In the article “Reclaiming the Forgotten History and Cultural Landscapes of African-Americans in Rural Washington County,” author Edie Wallace admits that his and “our perceptions of the past are not always entirely accurate.” (10). She argues, as a result, that there is a need to study the cultural landscapes of the United States in order to obtain more accurate view of the past.

Wallace uses farms and buildings in Washington County, Maryland to establish connections among slavery, freedom, and the landscape. In doing so Wallace has created an opportunity to expand on the argument that what we “know” about slavery and even what we “know” about objects, is not always correct.

Maryland’s system of slavery continued even after the Civil War began in 1861. As a slave-holding border state, Maryland retained ties to both Virginia and Pennsylvania, economically and through shared families. Following the Emancipation Proclamation, Maryland delegates drafted a new constitution, which “passed by the narrowest of votes in October 1864″ and established that “all persons held to service or labor, as slaves, are hereby declared free.”(20). However, Wallace argues that Maryland slaves may have been freed, but they were not treated as equals by “white employers, neighbors, and even county governments.” (21). This inequality ed to the establishment of black communities in places like Washington County where structures built by and for free people would eventually become as important to interpreting history as documents.

Wallace’s article serves as an example that it is worthwhile to look at structures as indicative of the lives of people who once lived and toiled within the walls. She reminds us that that schools and churches were often one in the same building, as was the case with Tolson’s Chapel in Sharpsburg, MD. (24) These buildings are also evidence of the kind of community making that happened after the Emancipation Proclamation. By paying attention to churches, farms, schoolhouses, or even the homes in the communities, we can obtain a more complete picture of slavery and freedom.

Adapted from Buildings and Landscapes as Connections to African-American Washington County by Kymberly Peters

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