Maryland destinations evoke
state’s African-American heritage
Commemorative events honor Tubman legacy
along Underground Railroad Byway
BALTIMORE (March 7, 2013) – Maryland's African-American heritage – dating back to colonial days – resonates with the names of notable Marylanders who achieved distinction in a wide range of endeavors.
The names include: Henry Blair (1807-1860, inventor), Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806, scientist), Frederick Douglass (1818-1895, orator), Matthew Henson (1866-1955, explorer) and Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993, Supreme Court justice). Add in these 20th-century baseball players and musical performers: Leon Day and Judy Johnson, and Eubie Blake, Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday and Chick Webb.
At the top of any list of notable African-American Marylanders, says the Maryland Office of Tourism, is Harriet Tubman (c.1820-1913), an enslaved Eastern Shore native who became the legendary conductor of the Underground Railroad – a clandestine route to freedom for those enslaved in the area – during the mid-19th-century years leading up to the Civil War.
March 10 marks the centennial anniversary of Tubman's passing. To commemorate that milestone and the Tubman legacy, March 8-10 is the first of several Tubman tribute weekends during the year along the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway. The Maryland segment of the byway – a 125-mile corridor that goes through Caroline and Dorchester counties – traces the area where Tubman lived and worked, and the secret locations along the Underground Railroad.
The March weekend features the opening of an art exhibition, a banquet and a tribute concert – all tied to the celebration of Tubman's life. Subsequent weekends include the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Conference, May 31-June 1, and the Tubman Centennial Fall Weekend, Oct. 5-6.
“The Tubman Byway offers a collection of destinations across the Eastern Shore region where travelers can experience Maryland's rich heritage of African-American culture and history,” says Margot Amelia, executive director of the state tourism office. “The byway also has attractions with special appeal for travelers who enjoy the outdoors – Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, for instance.”
Sometimes called “the Everglades of Maryland,” Blackwater is just south of Cambridge. The refuge – a haven for migratory waterfowl along the Atlantic Flyway – has more than 25,000 acres of tidal wetlands. A nearly two-mile Tubman Road Trail is one of four hiking trails on the property. And, on Saturday afternoon, March 9, Underground Railroad historian Tony Cohen leads a one-mile walk during Blackwater's annual Eagle Festival. “Blackwater is an integral landscape in the Tubman story,” Amelia says.
Nearby is Bucktown Village Store, where Tubman – in her first-known act of public defiance – refused to help capture a runaway slave. Tours of Tubman-related locations can start from here. The store is also headquarters for Blackwater Paddle and Pedal Adventures , a local family-owned tour operator that rents canoes, kayaks and bicycles.
Here is a sampling of other places listed by region where visitors can experience Maryland's African-American heritage while exploring the state.
- The Kennedy Farmhouse in Sharpsburg was the staging location where abolitionist John Brown and his small army prepared for their raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry in 1859 – an event often considered to have been the start of the Civil War. This restored National Historic Landmark is open for tours.
- Dorsey Chapel (Glenn Dale) and Northampton Plantation Slave Quarters Archeological Site (Mitchellville) are both run by Prince George's County. Dorsey – the religious and social center of a rural African-American community for more than 70 years – was built in 1900 and restored in 1996. Visitors to Northampton can see the rebuilt foundations of two 19th-century slave quarters from the remains of a tobacco plantation.
- Josiah Henson Site, formerly called the “Riley Farm/Uncle Tom's Cabin,” is in Bethesda. Reverend Josiah Henson's 1849 autobiography was the inspiration for Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin . Henson lived and worked as a slave at Isaac Riley's farm from 1795 to 1830. He then managed to escape to Canada.
- Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum in Oella (Western Baltimore County) is the site of the Banneker family's farmstead dating back to the 17th century. Benjamin Banneker became prominent as a self-taught mathematician and astronomer. The 142-acre park, which has a permanent Banneker exhibition, is also a showcase for colonial history and environmental conservation. A number of trails are on the site, including the historic No. 9 Trolley Line Trail.
- Banneker-Douglass Museum, located in Annapolis, maintains the state's official collection of African-American history and culture. Named for Benjamin Banneker and Frederick Douglass, the museum hosts lectures, workshops and performances. On March 16, James Terrell and Josslyn Luckett discuss Music and the Spirit during a Third Saturday program. Terrell currently has an exhibition of more than 30 of his paintings at the museum, Race-Rhythm-Reflections: The Art of James Terrell.
- Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park, located on the water in Baltimore's Fells Point section, offers exhibitions, gallery talks, tours and hands-on learning programs. The park depicts the history of the African-American community during the 1800s, along with the maritime traditions of the region. Douglass, who had lived and worked on the local docks, was an abolitionist, orator and statesman. Myers was a founder of Chesapeake Marine Railway and Dry Dock Company – the first African-American owned and operated shipyard – and a national labor leader.
- Hampton National Historic Site, a National Park Service property in Baltimore County, was the location of the largest house in the country in 1790. The site incorporated an area half the size of present-day Baltimore. Indentured servants and slaves were a major part of the history of the estate, where the Ridgely family assembled a fortune through agriculture, manufacturing and commerce.
- Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture in Baltimore, near the Inner Harbor, is the largest African-American museum on the East Coast. It has a 200-seat theater, oral-history studio and substantial exhibition space. Defining Moments: An Exhibition of Works by Bryan Collier – organized by the National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature – is on exhibit until May 26. Collier is a Pocomoke City (Worcester County) native.
- African-American Heritage Society Museum in La Plata (Charles County) has artifacts, documents and photographs that depict the history of African-Americans in Charles County from 1658 to the present. The society promotes awareness of African-American contributions to the development of Southern Maryland.
- Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, located on 560 acres off the Patuxent River in St. Leonard (Calvert County), has a visitor center, exhibit barn and a network of nature trails. Sukeek's Cabin Site – an African-American domestic site named for a woman who was enslaved and brought to the U.S. in the early 1800s – is a subject of archaeological exploration at the park.
- Sotterley Plantation in Hollywood (near St. Mary's City) is the only remaining Tidewater plantation in Maryland that is open to the public. Older than both Mount Vernon and Monticello, Sotterley includes an early-18th-century mansion, an original slave cabin and an assortment of other buildings on 95 acres of fields and gardens just off the Patuxent River.
- Frederick Douglass Driving Tour of Talbot County is a self-guided tour that offers an overview of Douglass' early life at 14 locations. Tour information is available from the Historical Society of Talbot County. A statue of Douglass – who escaped his enslavement to become a prominent orator and abolitionist – stands on the front lawn of the Talbot County Courthouse.
- Museum of Rural Life in Denton (Caroline County) offers a view of the agrarian lifestyle of people who lived in the area from the late 1700s through the early 1800s. An exhibit of paintings and drawings by Mark Priest – inspired by Tubman's connection to the Underground Railroad – opens March 8 with an evening artist's reception. Priest spent the past decade following the routes of the Underground Railroad and researching Tubman's life.
More information about Maryland's African-American heritage is available in brochures that can be ordered through the Tourism Office's web site, including the Underground Railroad Map and Guide, and Maryland's African-American Heritage Travel Guide.
About Maryland tourism
The Maryland Office of Tourism is an agency of the Division of Tourism, Film and the Arts within the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. Visitors to the state spent more than $14.3 billion on travel-related expenses in 2011. During 2011, the Maryland tourism industry also generated close to $2 billion in state and local taxes and provided more than 131,000 jobs to Maryland residents.