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  • African American History Topics

    African American History



    River Road, Bethesda: A Short History of Black and White, 1850-1963 *NEW*

    Speaker: Paige Whitley

    The commercial section of River Road, Bethesda, sometimes called Westbard, was once home to a flourishing community of African Americans. This presentation outlines the history of this community and their white neighbors from before the Civil War to after Desegregation, and examines the networks of families, faith, education, and work that held the community together before intensified commercial development led to its eventual disbandment. Macedonia Baptist Church, on the corner of River Road and Clipper Lane, and the currently disputed Moses Cemetery are all that now remain of the original community.   




    Woodlawn Manor of Sandy Spring:  An Intersection of Quakers, Enslaved, and Freedom Seekers 
    Speaker: Mark Thorne
    This PowerPoint presentation features a historic look at Woodlawn Manor plantation in Sandy Spring, MD. The story traces the ownership of the property from Dr. William Palmer, the Quaker doctor that oversaw the plantation to its greatest expanse to the property becoming a public park that features the Woodlawn Museum. The museum highlights the area’s agriculture landscape, the Underground Railroad and the Quaker experience in Montgomery County, revealed through the lives of the Woodlawn’s residents -the Palmer Family and enslaved laborers.




    Thurgood Marshall: A Trail-Blazing Civil Rights Victory in Montgomery County  
    Speaker: Ralph Buglass
    Civil rights icon Thurgood Marshall delivered an early blow to school segregation right here in Montgomery County—gaining equal pay for the county’s African American teachers in 1937. This little-known legal case is often seen as the first step in Marshall’s successful drive to have separate schools for white and black children declared unconstitutional, as the Supreme Court did 17 years later in a landmark decision. This illustrated talk details this remarkable local story and its national significance. Spoiler alert: the victory came at a tremendous cost to the teacher bringing the case.




    Still Standing: The Relics of School Segregation in Montgomery County
    Speaker: Ralph Buglass
    Education, denied to slaves, was one of the highest priorities of emancipated African Americans. But in Montgomery County, where slavery existed, public education was not extended to black children until a decade after it was instituted for white children. Even then, the practice of “separate but equal” schools was anything but equal, and no black high school was built until well into the 20th century. A surprising number of these African American schools still exist in the county, including several erected through a partnership between Booker T. Washington and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald that helped improve black education all over the South.



    Differing Historical Perspectives on Slavery in Maryland and the District of Columbia
    Speaker: James H. Johnston
    The word “slavery” brings up a mental image of the “peculiar institution” as it existed in the Deep South right before the Civil War. Slavery in the Washington area was different. It began the same – in the late 1600s, Ninian Beall’s tobacco plantation occupied the land where the White House is today – but it soon changed. After tobacco wore out the land, slavery made less sense, and it was hard to enforce with an increasingly diverse capital of the United States. By the time of the Civil War, Washington, D.C. still had slaves, but they lived among a population of free African Americans. Author James H. Johnston will discuss the differing perspectives on slavery that emerge from his two books, The Recollections of Margaret Loughborough, about a daughter of the Old Dominion of Virginia, and From Slave Ship to Harvard, which follows six generations of an African American family in Maryland.



    African Americans in Montgomery County During the Civil War
    Speaker: Susan Soderberg
    On the eve of the Civil War, Montgomery County had a population of 18,322, including 5,500 enslaved people and 1,500 free blacks. The African Americans viewed the Civil War from an entirely different perspective than their white owners and neighbors. Autonomy and respect was what they yearned for and this is what the Civil War promised to the enslaved. This topic was the subject of an article by the same title in the summer 2011 issue of the Montgomery County Story, the biannual journal published by Montgomery History.



    Yarrow Mamout and His Family
    Speaker: James H. Johnston

    Yarrow Mamout’s is one of the most remarkable success stories in American history.  Brought to Maryland on a slave ship in 1752 and enslaved for the next forty years, Yarrow (his last name) didn’t become a free man until he was 60 years old.  He then acquired a house in Georgetown and enough money to retire on the interest from loans to white merchants and on stock dividends.  In 1819, the great portrait painter Charles Willson Peale learned of Yarrow and painted a “remarkable likeness” as a testament to racial equality.  But Yarrow, the man, was forgotten after his death in 1823 until author Jim Johnston rediscovered him in recent times and told his story in From Slave Ship to Harvard: Yarrow Mamout and the History of an African American Family.




    Message or Myth: Quilts and the Underground Railroad
    Speaker: Susan Soderberg

    Recently a theory that quilts were used as signals on the Underground Railroad has spread like wildfire to become widely held as historical fact. Kate Clifford Larson, author of the acclaimed autobiography of Harriet Tubman, Bound for the Promised Land, says about this theory that “The difficult stories of slavery and resistance somehow are softened by the images of pretty quilts, but by focusing on those pretty quilt designs we are once again obscuring the truth.” This presentation will go into the history of quilting in America and the history of the Underground Railroad and has a surprise ending with an entirely new theory.

    Archaeology of the Josiah Henson Site
    Speaker: Don Housley
    Josiah Henson, whose autobiography inspired the novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, lived in Bethesda as a slave in the first part of the 19th century. This PowerPoint presentation explains how archaeological and historical investigation work together to enrich the interpretation of this famous site. Research at the site is on-going and this presentation will be updated regularly as new information is unearthed. For more information about the Josiah Henson archaeology project visit


    Father Divine of Montgomery County: Early 20th Century Advocate for Peace and Equality
    Speaker: Judy Christensen


    Josiah Henson & Uncle Tom’s Cabin
    Speaker: Judith Christensen


    The Underground Railroad: Local History
    Speaker: Susan Soderberg

    Face to Face with History: William P. Powell, Jr., African American Civil War Surgeon
    Speaker: Jill Newmark

    Within these Walls: The Contraband Hospital and the African Americans Who Served There
    Speaker: Jill Newmark


    We are pleased to offer the services of our Speakers Bureau for your organization’s meeting in the form of lectures, slide shows (traditional and PowerPoint), music, portrayals and re-enactments in local history, and in the national history that is part of our local story.


    The Genealogical Society is organized to promote interest and proficiency in genealogical research and to make available records of interest to genealogist. The main focus of the Genealogical Society is to help researchers develop skills and become aware of sources that can be used wherever their ancestors lived.