Posts Tagged National Park Service

A note on calls to Kendra Parzen of National Historic Trust & Ryan Doherty of NPS Chesapeake Bay Gateway

Image may contain: 1 personOn Monday, January 4, 2021 I placed calls to Kendra Parzen of the National Historic Trust and Jonathan Doherty of the National Park Service’s Chesapeake Bay Gateway Network in response to a December 2020 article in the Bay Journal, “African American History Focus of Bay Mapping Effort.”

In equally fifteen to twenty minute phone conversations I shared with both Parzen and Doherty my background as the author of Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C.: The Lion of Anacostia (The History Press, 2012), as well as my working relationship with the National Park Service’s Frederick Douglass National Historic Site for a decade or thereabouts, as well as my current consultation on a community survey of the National Park Service’s Carter G. Woodson Home National Historic Site in Washington City’s Shaw neighborhood, as well as my recent appearance on WYPR (88.1 FM, Baltimore City), as well as my various popular historic / heritage walking tours throughout the DC-BaltimoreAnnapolisEastern ShoreWestern Maryland and Harpers Ferry areas, as well as the fact that before I presented (and/or co-presented) on the lost history of Frederick Douglass in Cambridge, Maryland (September 2018 @ the Harriet Tubman Museum and Education Center), Frederick Douglass in Denton, Maryland (February 2019 @ Caroline County Public Library in Denton), Frederick Douglass in Hagerstown, Maryland (February 2019 @ Washington County Public Library in Hagerstown & Ebenezer AME Church), Frederick Douglass in Frostburg / Allegany County (April 2019 @ Frostburg State University), Rev. Henry A. Monroe, Godson of Frederick Douglass (September 2019 @ Dorchester County Historical Society), Frederick Douglass in Salisbury, Maryland (September 2019 @ Chipman Cultural Center), Frederick Douglass in Centreville, Maryland (October 2019 @ Queen Anne’s County Public Library) and the upcoming Frederick Douglass in Cecil County (February 2021 @ Cecil County Public Library) the institutional knowledge of Douglass and his networks within these geographically diverse regions and communities of the Chesapeake in antebellum, Civil War and Reconstruction is/was nearly entirely unknown, undocumented, unrecognized, unstudied and ignored by local, regional and national institutions. 

I also shared with both Kendra Parzen and Jonathan Doherty that the Star Democrat, the daily paper of record for Maryland’s Mid Shore, quoted me in late October 2020 while attending a community meeting at the Frederick Douglass Park on the Tuckahoe in Talbot County.

Local scholar John Muller, who has written books about Frederick Douglass including The Lion of Anacostia, said more of Frederick Douglass’ personal history should be told, not a “nursery rhyme history.”

“A complete story cannot be told when the complete story is not known,” he said. “There are not efforts to reach out to subject matter experts who have the expertise and knowledge of Douglass here on the Eastern Shore.”

Muller said there should be a direct connection from the park to Cedar Hill, Douglass’ estate in Anacostia in his later years. In the panels, the park notes other historical sites, including Cedar Hill, and connects them on the map.

Jonathan Doherty: The Chesapeake Bay Watershed - YouTubeNeither Parzen nor Dougherty was familiar with my extensive presentations, walking tours, interviews and published material. It is their jobs to know my groundbreaking work. The existence and purpose of this “mapping effort” is to know my work. 

More specifically, I asked Dougherty if he was familiar with the 2019 book on James Collins Johnson, a friend to Frederick Bailey Douglass. He was neither familiar with the book, my book review in Library Journal nor locations on the Eastern Shore that are associated, connected and affiliated with Johnson. 

The reason for my contacting Parzen and Dougherty was to take the initiative to introduce myself and my work that aligns with the effort to document the collective history of American Descendant communities throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed and environs from the Lower Eastern Shore to the Appalachian communities along the northern branch of the Potomac. 

I shared with Parzen and Dougherty I will be reaching out to a collection of officials within the National Park Service, Maryland Office of Planning / Maryland Historical Trust, elected officials in Annapolis and members of the US Senate and US Congress that have geographic jurisdiction over this ambitious effort and undertaking as a member of the public, a subject matter expert and a regional reporter to offer the services of Lost History Associates, co-founded by myself and Mr. Justin McNeil, in this process as members of the “board of historical advisers.”

We look forward to the immediately forthcoming opportunity to contribute and collaborate in this important public history community process. If Parzen, Doherty and the board of historical advisers, largely composed of political appointees and registered lobbyists, do not know my work they are not qualified to be involved in this process, which is supported by the public treasury. If they do not know my work they should immediately start studying or they should resign from this effort immediately. 

I will be following this effort closely and documenting my efforts on this blog.


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“African American History Focus Of Bay Mapping Effort” (December, 2020; Bay Journal)

A group of African Americans pose aboard the bugeye Thomas Blades in the harbor of St. Michaels, MD, c. 1910. (Gift of Mary V. Thomas to the Collection of Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, 1051-0014)

What isn’t known about the 400-year history of African Americans and the Chesapeake region could fill the Bay itself to overflowing.

“This is part of the American story,” said Jonathan Doherty, manager of the National Park Service’s Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network, a partnership of 150 parks, refuges, museums and other significant sites. “For too long, parts of the American story have been untold and under-addressed.”

Maybe for not much longer. The Park Service is joining the National Trust for Historic Preservation and three Bay area states on a $400,000 effort to map sites and landscapes important to the Black experience within the watershed. An advisory committee of professionals will help guide the work.

The recently announced collaboration plans to gather the locations into a digital database. Once a site is registered in the system, organizers hope that surrounding communities will work toward their preservation — or at least spare them from imminent destruction.

“We need to know where resources are in order to prioritize their preservation,” said Kendra Parzen, a field officer with the National Trust, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit. “Lack of detail leads to those places being overlooked.”

Historians won’t be starting from scratch. African American history and culture in the 64,000-square-mile watershed have been documented in books, museum and university collections, articles and photographic collections. Many historical sites are already protected.

But there is no clearinghouse of Black historical sites for the multistate watershed. And many places of potential significance remain poorly documented or unknown to historians altogether. Other sites may be generally familiar to scholars but their connections to African American history may still be shrouded, Doherty said.

“There are sites that have been documented on a state or national level for some time,” he said. “It may have been added because of the architectural attributes on the property, but there’s no documentation of that particular site to show that it may have had a significance associated with African Americans.”

Black history in the Chesapeake region dates at least as far back as 1619, when the first Africans arrived as slaves in Jamestown, VA. For much of the Colonial period, they toiled anonymously on tobacco plantations. But two of the most recognizable icons from the 1800s, underground railroad conductor Harriet Tubman and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, hailed from the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

The Chesapeake region is dotted with Civil War battlefields, many with strong links to Black valor. For example, at the Battle of the Crater in Petersburg, VA, soldiers with the United States Colored Troops led a counterattack that drove back Confederate forces, staving off a potential Union rout.

From the Jim Crow era, the mapping effort is likely to identify dozens of sites, including Blacks-only schools and beaches. And there are physical touchstones of the civil rights movement scattered around the region as well.

What places qualify as historic? What does it mean to represent African American life in the Chesapeake region? Doherty said that the partnership will interpret its charge broadly. Sites won’t necessarily have to be related to the water or seafood industry to be candidates for inclusion.

But the partnership’s supporters expect some of their richest stories to be directly related to the region’s waters. African Americans were – and continue to be – an integral part of the Bay’s iconic water-based economy, working as watermen, oyster shuckers and crab pickers, among other roles.

Vince Leggett has been working to document that history for more than three decades. In 1994, he founded the Blacks of the Chesapeake Bay, which seeks to collect stories and artifacts of African American life in the watershed. The partnership has invited him to serve on its board of historical advisers.

Historically, Black people tended to live closest to the Bay’s shores because the lower ground was viewed by White settlers as less hospitable, Leggett said. He hopes that the partnership captures not only the stories of the region’s most well-known Black figures but also those of people from various walks of life.

“It’s more than the Frederick Douglasses and Harriet Tubmans,” Leggett said. “They are the bookends of Black history. We lift them up. But we were more than slaves.”

One measure of the recognition gap between Blacks and Whites in the Bay’s history involves Leggett personally. In 2003, he was named an Admiral of the Bay, the highest honor a Maryland governor can confer upon someone for environmental accomplishments. African Americans account for only five of the more than 100 recipients of the designation since its creation in 1959.

The Gateways Network has put up half of the project’s funding. The rest is coming from the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority, Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and the National Trust.

That money will cover three pilot projects, one in each state, designed to determine the effectiveness of different computer-mapping technologies. That phase is expected to take up to 18 months.

“We [historians] have captured more historic sites that are associated with White history,” Parzen said. “We are working on shifting those priorities now.”

Bay Journal link by Jeremy Cox here 


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Video: Jenny Masur: Heroes of the Underground Railroad Around Washington, DC (Prince George’s County Memorial Library)

Author Jenny Masur discusses her book Heroes of the Underground Railroad Around Washington, D.C., hosted by Misty Trunnell of the Oxon Hill Branch Library.

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Thank you Ranger Steve Phan of the National Park Service Civil War Defenses of Washington & Frederick Douglass National Historic Site for a memorable evening program at Cedar Hill (August 30, 2019)

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Ranger Steve Phan speaks to two hundred people from the porch of Cedar Hill for evening program at the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, August 30, 2019.                                 Photo credit Bill McLeod.

We thank Ranger Steve of the Civil War Defenses of Washington for his work in the forts and the trenches of the community bringing public history to the people.

A special Thank You to National Park Service, staff and Rangers of the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site and to all community members of Old Anacostia who brought their friends, children and families to Cedar Hill to enjoy a special and memorable program for the ages.

Follow Civil War Defenses of Washington on Facebook for news on upcoming events, nature walks, family and youth activities, anniversaries and volunteer opportunities.

On forested hills surrounding the nation’s capital are the remnants of a complex system of Civil War fortifications. These strategic buttresses transformed the young capital into one of the world’s most fortified cities. By 1865, 68 forts and 93 batteries armed with over 800 cannons encircled Washington, DC.

Today, you can visit 17 of the original sites now managed by the National Park Service.

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Family Fun Day at Frederick Douglass House! Sunday, October 19 [11am – 4pm]

DC Family Fund Day _ Oct. 19


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