Child in Play (Photo Credit: Children Nature Network)
African Americans have a long and rich history in the United States. Here in the Chesapeake, the legacy of Black sailors and watermen goes back to the 1600s, and with a heritage that runs deep in the evolution of the Chesapeake watershed. Many major tobacco plantations were located here, as were numerous stops on the Underground Railroad. The region includes many battlegrounds of the Civil War, as well as places of notable activism in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Generations of Black Americans have made their living from the waters of the Bay as boat captains, oysters tongers, crab pickers and more. Special places along the Bay and throughout the region also provided treasured places for outdoor recreation. But many of the places that hold the stories of African American life in the watershed are still under-recognized and unprotected
In support of this year’s Black History Month, we will be elevating inspiring efforts in the Chesapeake watershed made by today’s Black communities.
With a goal of telling a more complete American story, a new partnership among the National Park Service Chesapeake Office; the National Trust for Historic Preservation (National Trust); the states of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia; and the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership has worked towards mapping and identifying sites and landscapes in the Chesapeake Bay watershed region significant to African American history and culture.
The Chesapeake Mapping Initiative strives to ensure places important to African Americans are better represented in historic preservation and land conservation priorities, laying down the groundwork for future mapping efforts and further research exploration.
The multi-state partnership behind the Chesapeake Mapping Initiative undertakes unique pilot projects in Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania to identify sites and landscapes significant to African American history and to gather baseline Geographic Information System (GIS) data on these historic places. National Trust staff have been working with State Historic Preservation offices to design pilot projects that respond to each state’s survey priorities.
This first phase of the survey effort included outreach to local communities to share information and collect feedback. The scope of work for each pilot program and its current status include:
Initiated in 2021, Virginia research focuses on identifying resources related to Black watermen culture in coastal communities. Survey work is informing the creation of approximately 80 new records in V-CRIS, the Department of Historic Resources’ statewide electronic culture resources database. A deliverable of this work will include a multiple property document, a form used to document properties by common themes and histories. This document will also be used to nominate historically significant site locations to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Work in Virginia established 80 new state cultural resource records and a multiple property document with one nomination for the National Register. The site location that has been placed under nomination is Samuel D. Outlaw’s Blacksmith Shop. Mr. Outlaw was an experienced blacksmith and wheelwright who used his shop to serve watermen, farmers, and neighbors from 1927 until 1991. Today, Mr. Outlaw’s shop serves as a museum with rare intact displays of tools used by Mr. Outlaw. Next steps for the nomination include a comprehensive review sometime in March this year.
In Pennsylvania, African American churches and cemeteries are used as focal points in a crowdsourcing effort. Beginning in 2022, community members in south-central Pennsylvania were asked to identify historically significant churches and cemeteries in their counties through an interactive online platform. Counties include Adams, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Fulton, Lancaster, Lebanon, Perry, and York. Once collected, the project team will research and add additional information where needed with a goal of creating a minimum of 45 new records in Pennsylvania’s PA-SHARE system.
The successful crowdsourcing effort in Pennsylvania resulted in 45 new state cultural resource records. According to survey specialists, 100 above ground resources, 15 archaeological resources and 12 district resources were identified. Final records are expected to conclude later this year and will be part of the final report of this project.
Crowd Sourcing (Photo Credit: Chesapeake Mapping Initiative Screenshot Image)
Research in the Maryland pilot program consists of analyzing existing historical records for missing connections in African American history, specifically looking at all existing records in the watershed counties of Kent, Calvert, and Somerset. Identified gaps will be used to recommend a survey of research to help correct omission within historical records to reflect a more complete history of these locations.
The focused counties of Kent, Calvert, and Somerset will receive an annotated bibliography containing a reporting outline and list of recommendations for further research as directed by identified gaps in historical documents and history. Work for the counties of Kent and Calvert have been completed and expect Somerset later this year. Completed work will produce a report analyzing outcomes and drawing lessons for future work.
Collectively, these projects are only a small step towards documenting the breadth of Black history in the Chesapeake Watershed, but they will also lay the groundwork for future mapping efforts for African American historic places by demonstrating the effectiveness of different project approaches. Once the pilot projects are complete, the National Trust will analyze the results and draw lessons for future phases of this work. Ultimately, this effort will result in a more equitable understanding of the watershed’s history that can be used to educate the public. A second phase, focused on expanding crowdsourcing as a tool for this work, is anticipated to kickoff later in 2023.
Other Black History Month Events
If you’re looking for ways to get involved or participate in upcoming Black History Month events, check out the list of activities and programs taking place this month.
The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) is hosting virtual and in-person events for the month of February.
Please refer to ASALH’s website for further details and event links/tickets:
- February 21st, 6:30pm-7:30pm, 2023 Annual Book Prize Finalists
- February 22nd, 6:30pm-8:30pm, Conservation with Security Lonnie G. Bunch III of the Smithsonian Institution
- February 23rd, 7:00pm-8:30pm, Resistance and the Black Press
- February 25th, 1:30pm, The Chisholm Effect
- February 27th, 6:30pm-8:30pm, Book Talks
- February 28th, 6:30pm-8:30pm, Closing Program
Other local events to join include:
- Coffee and Collections, have a cup and joe and hear the inspiring story of Frederick Douglass. February 23rd, from 11am-12pm
- Teaching with Museum Objects, Black women’s history pop-up sharing the untold stories of African American women. February 23rd from 4pm-5pm
- Black Business Expo, come visit DMV’s finest rising entrepreneurs and small Black-owned businesses. February 25th, from 12pm-5pm
- DC Concert, Celebrating the Garifuna Language with James Lovell. February 25th, from 2pm-3pm
- Sweet Home Cafe, featuring Black History Month Chef’s Table sharing the tradition of African cuisine. February 24th, 12pm-3pm
Child in Play (Photo Credit: Children Nature Network)
The work of several organizations, agencies and community members protect our nation’s historic sites and stories. As we celebrate Black History Month and continue to have difficult conversations around race and reconciliation as a nation, we, as a community, must remain committed to protecting tangible and intangible resources that demonstrate how diverse and complex our nation’s history really is, ensuring that they’re preserved for the betterment of future generations.
- African American Woman Preparing Crabs for Sale (Photo Credit: Library of Congress)
- Samuel D. Outlaw (Photo Credit: Visit VA)
Lightning Update is a regular communication of the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership. Any opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions of the Partnership or member organizations.
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Support for the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership is provided by:
National Park Service Chesapeake
EPA Chesapeake Bay Program
USDA Forest Service
Pennsylvania Department of Conservation & Natural Resources
Maryland Department of Natural Resources
Virginia Outdoors Foundation
US Fish & Wildlife Service