African American History


The Underground Railroad In Montgomery County: 25 Years of Discovery *NEW*

Speaker: Anthony Cohen

This presentation will feature 25 years of research into Montgomery County’s Underground Railroad, beginning with Cohen’s seminal publication on the topic in 1994. New research discoveries will be highlighted, along with several emerging projects, currently underway across the history community at large. 


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 Springs, 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.

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

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.

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

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 MCHS.

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

The Man in the Knit Cap: Yarrow Mamout
Speaker: James Johnston
Yarrow Mamout was a well-known ex-slave who lived in Georgetown. Jim Johnston was captivated by the 1822 painting of Yarrow at the Georgetown library and describes the three years he spent uncovering the history of the man and why two artists, Charles Willson Peale and James Alexander Simpson, did portraits of him. The Peale painting has been called “the most sensitive” early portrait of an African American.

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.

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