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.


Karen Smith

Michael Derege and Samantha Gross interviewed Karen Smith on June 3rd. Karen Smith is a recently retired professor from Washington College, and has called Maryland her home her entire life. Having been born in Washington D.C., and then raised in Kensington and Chevy Chase--two towns in Montgomery County, Maryland, she has seen a lot in this small Eastern state. She describes her time in Chevy Chase and walking by the black section of town, called Ken Gar, and witnessing the growth of the Hispanic population. She remembers going to schools that were integrated in areas that were still segregated as well as a black hosue keeper who acted as a nanny to her and her siblings. Smith also recounts the beginning of her lifelong career with dancing whether it be the structured class time or the Sock Hops she attended in school.
She eventually went to University of Maryland, majoring in Dance and minoring in Spanish before coming to Washington College to teach Dance and Physical Education in the later half of the sixties. She remembers Chestertown as small and quaint with people who were very helpful. She also remembers the Uptown Club and a place called "The Tavern" that professors had meetings. Smith continues to describe the racial atmosphere at the time, citing the slow and small growth of a black student body. Some of her memories include not being able to hold golf classes at the Country Club if she bought either black or Jewish students as well as a Chinese restaurant that met so much resistance it  eventually closed its door 

Smith also discusses the growth of the dance program, her hopes for the future of the program, and her own plans for what seems to be an active retirement. 


Armand Fletcher

Fletcher describing some of the buildings of the sixties.
To kick off the start of interviews, the team met with Armand Fletcher, one of the students in the first integrated class Chestertown High, at the Kent County Historical Society to discuss his life and to learn about the African-American history in the county. Armand told them of his life and of is experiences in the newly integrated high  school--how he went from being called "nigger" all up and down the halls and fighting with one of the students to eventually becoming friends with everyone in the school. He described the way he realized his role in this historical moment when he wanted to go back to Garnett, and his principal at the time told he couldn't. "The whole town is watching you," he told him.
Some of the exhibits.
Armand also took them through the exhibit about black history in the county, going over the successes during and after the Civil War, the restoration of the G.A.R. building, the various memories of segregation and integration, and more. He talks about the Uptown Club, the times when the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and other big singers came through Chestertown, and much, much more.
(L-R) Nona Martin, Samantha Gross, Armand Fletcher, Erin Cooper, Michael Derege
A wise and well traveled individual, Armand returned home to Chestertown after being away, bringing a renewed sense of purpose and a new respect for the town he calls home. He offers a lot of advice and anecdotes in this first interview, and it is clear he is passionate about what he is doing with the historical society.


Professor George Shivers

This afternoon we talked with former WC Hispanic Studies professor, George Shivers, about his involvement and study of Kent County desegregation. Shivers shared his studies of Board meetings about integration as well as more information based on his understandings. 
Before it was an elementary school, the Henry Highland Garnett School was the high school created for black student between 1915 and 1916. The version we see today was created in 1959. Meanwhile the main high school for the town was the Chestertown High School. The first black student to ever attend CHS was Patricia Bryant in 1962. Bryant would go on to serve as a United Methodist pastor as well as a superintendent for the Salisbury District, but Shivers could not track her beyond there.

We also learned more about Shiver's career with the college and what he is up to now.

Leslie Prince Raimond

Now and Then: Leslie recently and Leslie as a WC Senior
This morning, Nona Martin and Samantha Gross met with Leslie Prince Raimond, a Washington College graduate of 1963 and the current Executive Director for the Kent County Arts Council. Raimond has had a long history with Chestertown. She was in college for the first black student as well as the Freedom Riders, and she has since stayed and been a part of the town's rich culture and history.

While this was not yet a traditional oral history interview (that will be for later), Leslie had many stories to share as well as connections to other important alum and members of the community. One particular story was about the quilt that now hangs in the Kent County Historical Society (located  at the Bordley History Center, 301 High Street, Chestertown).
The quilt was made in the late nineties and holds the pictures of many of the community elders at the time, some in their nineties themselves. Many have since passed away, but Leslie captured some of their stories on paper.


GMU Workshop on Qualitative Methods

Bright and early at 5:30 a.m. StoryQuest members Samantha Gross ('14), Michael Derege('14), and Erin Cooper ('14) boarded a Washington College shuttle driven by program director Nona Martin to attend one the days of a workshop on qualitative methods conducted by the college's new Provost and Dean of the College, Emily Chamlee-Wright at George Mason University. Along the way they picked up other program director, Michael Buckley, and headed towards the James Buchanan House to sit in on a day of lectures about interview techniques. They joined a few other George Mason economic graduate students at the Fairfax, VA location.

Chamlee-Wright and Martin briefly discussed their personal experience with interviewing and oral history as they explained their most recent project of studying post-Katrina New Orleans, entitled, "How We Came Back." This project took them, with other investigators, to New Orleans, LA to interview hundreds of Katrina victims. They discussed the valuable lessons they learned (no interviews after dark), funny-now-not-so-much-then accounts (like interviewing without air conditioning in the middle of a humid summer), and more as they segued the discussion into the different topics for the day's workshop.

Questors learned bout the types of questions that should be asked, why oral history and the qualitative method, rather than a quantitative one, is so important, and more during this day long workshop.

As a special treat, they were able to sample some of Fairfax's Indian food for lunch and were able to talk with the GMU Graduate students about their fields of study or academic past.


An Introduction: Civil Rights on the Eastern Shore

Speaker talks to Washington College Students

Maryland may have been a middle state and part of the Union during the Civil War, but come to the Eastern Shore as late as the sixties, and one might find it more comparable to the deep South than its northern counterparts. If you stepped into Chestertown in 1963, the sight would be a far cry from something found only a little more than an hour or two away in Philadelphia or Baltimore. Lombardo's, a popular little sandwich restaurant, would probably not serve you if you weren't white. You might discover that you'd have to sit in the balcony of the movie theater if you were black. If you were white, you might realize that those big singers you've been listening to--Ray Charles, Patti Labelle, and more--were playing right down on College Avenue and Calvert Street in the Uptown Club, and you were not allowed to go in. Keep in mind the passing of the Civil Rights Act (1964) was right around the corner, and the passing of Brown vs. Board of Education had been passed for nearly a decade. It seems the turmoil and radical change that was racing through the country had bypassed the isolate Eastern Shore.

The aim of the summer 2013 program is to get the stories of the people who lived during this time, and find out what it was really like for people during this era. We want to know about the topics of segregation, individual involvement, personal perspective. Black, white, old, young, student, worker, teacher, official, you name it. The stories we collected will paint a true picture, beyond the words of a textbook, of the Eastern Shore during one of the most tumultuous decades in the United States' history.