Retracing the Journey through Hallowed Ground: Collaborating with Black Historical Societies and Scholars, Regional History Project Publishes African-American History Volume on National Heritage Area

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Few regions in the U.S. boast a more plentiful array of historically significant sites than the 175-mile-long route between Monticello, Va., and Gettysburg, Pa. From the most venerated of Civil War battlefields to nine historic homes of U.S. presidents and thousands of sites listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the region, named the Journey Through Hallowed Ground, acquired status as a National Heritage Area in 2008 with approval by the U.S. Congress and President George W. Bush.

The four-state Journey Through Hallowed Ground corridor, spanning 15 counties in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania along U.S. Route 15, is one of 48 National Heritage Areas in the U.S.

This past year, the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership, the coalition of 350 nonprofit organizations, businesses, state agencies and local governments that lobbied for the National Heritage Area designation, published Honoring Their Paths: African American Contributions Along the Journey Through Hallowed Ground, a 248-page book highlighting African-American history in the region.

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"In 2005 when we started to compile the history within the region for the National Heritage area--the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area--what we found woefully lacking was the story of the contributions of African-Americans," says Beth Erickson, vice president of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership. "There were a lot of sites on the National Register of Historic Places discussing bricks-and-mortar, but very little talking about the people who had made the contributions that happened within those bricks-and-mortar."

Written by Northern Virginia-based in dependent historian Dr. Deborah Lee, the book is the fifth publication developed by the partnership that focuses on JTHG. With archival maps, images and photographs, the book documents regional African-American history spanning 300 years from the colonial era through the civil rights movement. It was written with the input and expertise of historians, local officials and members of African-American historical groups according to the partnership. Among those representing African-American historical groups were individuals from the Afro-American Historical Association of Fauquier County (Va.), Jefferson County (W.Va.) Black History Preservation Society, Orange County (Va.) African American Historical Association and the Doleman Black Heritage Museum of Hagerstown, Md.

"The spirit of collaboration to share the stories and the willingness and excitement of sharing history with others is what sparked Honoring Their Paths," Erickson says. "It's the individual stories that resonate most with people--the individual stories that people can connect to. It was stories of people ... in extraordinary circumstances and their stories haven't been told."

Scholars say Honoring Their Paths represents an example of the growing effort by public history entities, such as museums and historical associations, to document the broadest possible range of socially and politically significant history. Within American history museums, public exhibitions, books and historic sites, that effort has meant comprehensive explorations of African-American, Native American, Asian-American and Latino contributions to U.S. life and society.

"When I was taking undergraduate history courses, history was basically memorizing names and dates.... And that was changing as we moved into the 1960s, especially toward the late '60s, and we started to come into the practice of history that was referred to as 'social history,'" said Dr. James Oliver Horton, a retired George Washington University history professor. "And that looked not at just the names and the dates of the presidents and military leaders, but it started to look at the people generally."

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