Maryland Archaeologists Dig Up Remains of Free-Standing Black Community

Article excerpt

COLLEGE PARK, MD.

University of Maryland archaeologists are unearthing the remains of a little-known middle-class African American community in Annapolis, Md., that goes back to 1832. They hope to learn how this community managed to remain intact and endure the pressures of a hostile world for 150 years. The archaeologists held public tours of the site through early August.

Free African Americans established the community and bought freedom for their relatives who were slaves. Eventually, about 30 families owned houses. "They were the anchors that made it possible for this community to sustain itself economically and socially," says Mark Leone, the University of Maryland archaeologist directing the project. "The people who owned these homes were professionals -- doctors, entrepreneurs. At the turn of the last century they supported a community grocery store, because that was the only way to get a fair shake," Leone says.

The community grew along Franklin Street where the Banneker-Douglass Museum now stands. Over the past two decades, Leone's team has excavated nearly 40 sites in the historic district. The current site -- an empty lot adjacent to the museum -- is the final location to be excavated. Leone says it may hold some of the most important clues to the way the community survived slavery and Jim Crow segregation. Eventually, the community began moving to the Annapolis suburbs in the 1960s.

Next month, the archaeologists will complete the dig, and construction workers will begin work at the site on an addition to the museum. In 1990, Leone's team began collecting oral histories from people who remembered the community as it was through the 20th century. They also drew on the extensive records preserved by families, showing how people gained their freedom. …