Mr. Freeman, Mr. Walker, and Mr. Wilson

Clyde Freeman  Larry Wilson and Chris Walker
Mt Olive AME Church -  Butlertown, MD

On June 19th, Clyde Freemen (born 1928), Chris Walker (born 1936) and Larry Wilson (born 1952) met us at Mt. Olive AME Church. They all grew up and moved back to Butlertown, MD, a small close-knit African American settlement. They had story after story about life in that little community. For example, they told stories about hog killing day, tales of swimming in the muddy pond and stories of how a simple get together between a couple of friends became an all-out party.                                             
Nona Martin Michael Derege and Samantha Gross


Reverend Mary Walker

On June 18th, Reverend Mary Walker welcomed Erin Cooper, Michael Derege, Wendy Clark and Nona Martin into her Butlertown home. 

Mary Walker was born in Chestertown, Maryland. She attended the segregated school of Garnett (for both elementary and High School). She found employment, like so many African Americans at the time, in factor work. Vita Foods and Campbell Soup Company in the Kent County were her employers. The majority of her years were spent in Delaware. She worked a shift that allowed her to be home when her children came home from school.

Reverend Mary Washington proudly displays a photo-collage of her children. 

She moved to her husband's home town of Butlertown (near Worton) Maryland after they married. This close knit African American community is where she raised her one daughter and three sons. Her children still live near her today. She made our mouths water as she reminisced about her grandmothers's biscuits and fried potatoes and her own secret recipe for white potato pie.


Eloise Johnson

On June 12, 2013 Nona Martin, Erin Cooper, Michael Derege, and Samantha Gross traveled out to Johnson's house to learn about her life as a teacher during integration.
Then and Now: Eloise Johnson
Eloise Johnson is the wife of the late local musician, Jazz Johnson While her husband had some local fame in the county, Eloise has had an equally interesting life which she shared with the team at her house on the outskirts of Chestertown. She described her time coming into town to go to Garnett High School, remembering both bad and good teachers during her career. She counts herself lucky as having graduated in 1949, long before integration occurred and, in her opinion, the quality of education decreased.

During the summers she would work and recounts some of the differences between the jobs the white girls would do versus the black girls. After graduation, she went on to teach and eventually went to Virginia State University, a predominantly black school at the time. Her first teaching job was as a first grade teacher. She eventually started teaching at Garnett in the early seventies.She remembers her time teaching with fondness, even with integration.  Her  teaching philosophy was that "all children can learn something."

Her social life at the time included the famous Uptown Club where she saw people like Ray Charles and more. She remembers the club changing for the worse overtime until its eventual destruction. She is also a member of Elks and she still loves playing bingo and being active in church. She also raised her older sister's child, whose daughter is going to Albright University in the fall.
Erin Cooper (right) spearheaded the interview with Eloise (left).
In terms of Civil Rights, she believes change happened gradually without too much fuss or anything dramatic. She also finds Kent County is still facing problems today.


Martha Wright

Erin and Sam interviewed Martha on June 6, 2013 at the Custom House where they learned about her long life living on the Eastern Shore.
Martha Wright has seen a lot in the last nine decades she has been here. Having spent almost her whole life in Kent County, save for a few years in Chester and Philadelphia, PA, she has seen the way the county has changed from her girlhood days to now. She was born to a very small, black farming community called West Georgetown, attending a one room schoolhouse until seventh grade and working on the farm. She then went to Garnett High School (where she had to walk a mile and a half to catch a bus into town) before attending business school in Pennsylvania. Martha was then one of the many employees of Vita Foods when they had a factory on the Eastern Shore, and she eventually worked for Campbell Soup.
(L-R) Erin Cooper, Martha Wright, Samantha Gross
Her life has been relatively peaceful, and she remembers Chestertown of the past fondly. She met her husband while she was out socializing and dancing, attending a small saloon on Cannon Street and the famous Uptown Club, where she heard singers like James Brown, Fats Domino, and more. She raised her daughters on the road that was once called Railroad Avenue and is now Queen Street Extension. She also remembers the Freedom Riders because her husband was one of the men who were arrested and later let out with help from the NAACP. She says integration was not something that happened particularly violently or quickly. It was a slow process, and Chestertown took its time.

Martha has been retired for some time, having worked more jobs at the local senior center and for the health department. She has seen the up rise and the decline of the town, citing the influx of drugs and the need for more jobs as the biggest concerns for the future.


Wesley Commodore

St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Fairlee MD.
Built in 1713

Mr. Wesley Commodore was born in 1920 near St. Paul's Episcopal Church, close to Rock Hall MD. His father was a farmer and he also farmed for forty years. Mr. Commodore describes the ins and outs of daily farm life in that time period such as milking the cow without machinery and hunting and fishing for sustenance not sport.   He remembers the war but did not serve, as farmers were exempt from the draft.  Commodore raised his wife’s three children.

When recalling social life in Chestertown, he mentions the concerts at the Uptown club as well as movie theatres. He didn’t frequent the clubs often as he did not drink and gospel music is his favorite kind of music.  He attended Bethel Baptist Church were his wife sang in the choir.  He recalls that although there was segregation, whites and blacks respected each other. His daughter went to a segregated school in Fairlee.

Mr. Commodore tells quite a few stories about hunting and farming.  Mr. Commodore also has a few stories about what life was like before the Bay Bridge was built. 

William Preston Lane Memorial Chesapeake Bay Bridge
Original Span construction started in 1949 and was completed in 1952

William Pickrum

On June 4, 2013 Nona Martin and Michael Derege interviewed William Pickrum.
Pickrum today
William Pickrum was born and raised at the site of the YMCA’s Camp Tockwogh around Still Pond Neck. Even though he was the black child of black workers, he still partook in many of the camp activities with its white residents, and did not quite recognize the issue of skin color until later in life He interacted little with children of his race until he attended Coleman Elementary School, a one room schoolhouse, until sixth grade. He remembers the small school as initially having no central heating or indoor plumbing. He later went to Garnett High School where many of the black students of the time went. He missed the integration of Chestertown High School, graduating in 1966. He considers this a fortunate event as he did not think much could match the nurturing, caring nature of his schooling.

In terms of the social atmosphere of Chestertown, he remembers there being a lot of de facto segregation. Tasty Freeze, which is now The Freeze, would not serve black customers inside is establishment; the Uptown Club was in its full height of popularity on the Chitlin’ Circuit, and places like Rock Hall, Tolchester Beach, and Betterton Beach were still clearly divided.

After high school, Pickrum went on to the Coast Guard Academy and traveled to different places like Connecticut and Pensacola, discovering racial problems still existed albeit at different levels. He now serves as the county commissioner. As the commissioner, he offers some unique insight on the current issues facing Chestertown today—namely education, public involvement, the continued problems with prejudice.


Don Derham

From the Pegasus 1948, Derham's senior picture.
Donald Derhum is one of the Washington College Alumni who decided to return to Chestertown later in life. He is also a War World II veteran, having completed college on the GI Bill. As many other veterans, he remembers his time in the war as a gunner with the same mixture of fondness and sadness, describing places in the Pacific, particularly his time spent in the Philippines, while also recounting stories of beheaded American soldiers and the ending of the war with the A bomb. He still has a reunion every year with his squadron.
Dean's Cabinet from 1963
Since he only spent a year at Washington before serving, he returned to complete his collegiate career. Upon his graduation in 1948, he had been a member of a variety of sports clubs, on the Dean’s Men of Council, in the Society of Sciences, and a brother of Kappa Alpha Order. He later worked in sales and met his wife who lives with him today. Even while he lived in other places, including Atlanta, GA, he returned to his alma mater and keeps in touch with the College—so much so that KA members today know who he is.