History in the Making Part 1

The Prince George’s County Historical & Cultural Trust, hosted the first in a series of community conversations titled “History in the Making: The War of 1812 and the Emancipation in Prince George’s County.” The event was held at Joe’s Movement Emporium in Mt Rainier, MD last night to an audience of about 55. The Trust, in partnership with Prince George’s Heritage, the African American Heritage Preservation Group, and the Anacostia Trails Heritage Area, are seeking to highlight the County’s history while also engaging the public and County politicians in a series of community conversations on how best to present, interpret, and fund that history. Participating local politicians included MD Senator Victor Rodriguez, Delegate Michael Summers, and County Councilman Will Campos. The series is funded through a grant from the Maryland Humanities Council. See the program website at http://www.anacostiatrails.org/making-history. The press release for the event is here: http://www.anacostiatrails.org/makinghistory2.pdf

Council Member Will Campos addresses the community. Courtesy Aaron Marcavitch

Alfonso Narvaez, as the chair of Prince George’s County Historical & Cultural Trust, acted as the moderator. The first speaker was Aaron Marcavitch, the executive director of the Anacostia Trails Heritage Area, who raced through the history of Prince George’s County, from the earliest archaeology to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. He introduced themes such as Transportation and Waterways and Culture and Community that will be used by Maryland Milestones to highlight the unique events that happened here.

Part of being able to promote the county’s history is revealing what there is. Ralph Eshelman did so by giving a fascinating insight into some of the less well known sites that relate to the War of 1812. One of these is Fenno Road, a tree-covered, unsurfaced track south of Upper Marlboro, that apparently looks almost the same today as it did 200 years ago.

Dr. Cheryl LaRoche drew attention both to the importance of the role played by African Americans in the War of 1812 and to the effect it had on their lives. Despite the conditions suffered by blacks in the US, African Americans fought valiantly and courageously for their country. However, the chaos of the War was also used as a diversion by people making their escape from slavery, at a time when every opportunity for freedom was seized. Some of these stories are available from the Maryland State Archives.

Then the floor was opened up to discussion. Many people focused on making the historical narrative relevant to everybody, including Dr. Jacqueline Brown, the director of Prince George’s County African American Museum and Cultural Center, who stressed that everyone’s stories should be told – not just the obvious ones. Council Member Will Campos added to this, saying that we need to find the ‘hooks’ that draw people in and make them want to find out more. Senator Victor Ramirez said that heritage professionals need to look beyond anniversaries to make sure that . We need to have pride in our history, no matter how recent or ancient, and that will help give lead to historical sites being valued and enjoyed.

Joe’s Movement was crowded! Courtesy Aaron Marcavitch

Dr. Cheryl LaRoche. Courtesy Aaron Marcavitch

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