OPINION: History Should Always Be Preserved Despite Reservations

By Maryland Senator Roy Dyson

This past weekend, I was on hand in Lexington Park to celebrate Juneteenth. This oldest known national celebration commemorates the official ending of slavery in the United States.

Although President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, slavery didn’t officially end until June 19, 1865 when Union soldiers led by Major General Gordon Granger came to Galveston, Texas to announce that the Civil War had ended after General Robert E. Lee’s surrender in April of 1865. Until Major General Granger made his announcement, slavery was still occurring in Texas.

Therefore, Juneteenth is a very important event for all Americans. It is appropriate we all celebrate the day when one of the darkest chapters in our national history came to a final end.

This is the reason I have sponsored several bond bills over the years – and supported another one – to preserve African-American historic buildings in Southern Maryland.

A few years ago, I put in a bond bill to preserve the Old Wallville one-room African-American schoolhouse in Calvert County. The Friends of the Old Wallville School are doing a magnificent job using the bond bill money I was able to secure for them as well as help they have received from the county commissioners and the public to restore the school.

Not only is the Old Wallville School an important historical site, it is also notable for the courage of one of its teachers. That teacher, Ms. Elizabeth Brown, sued the State of Maryland in the 1930s for equal pay for African-American teachers. Her lawyer was none other than the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Ms. Brown’s sister who also taught and was principal at Wallville recently toured the school.

The Old Wallville School sits adjacent to the Calvert County Elementary School on Dares Beach Road in Prince Frederick. The Calvert County School System is in the process of integrating into their curriculum not only a history of the school, but also is planning to use it as a platform for African-American culture and the history of integration, according to The Friends of Old Wallville President Harry Wederer.

In 2004, I put in another successful bill to preserve the Old Carver Heights building in Lexington Park along with Delegate John Bohanan.

The Old Carver Heights building first served as an all-black USO building outside of what is now the Patuxent River Naval Air Station since the Armed Services had yet to be integrated. The building was also used as an all-black school for first and second graders. The bond bill I put in for $250,000 is to preserve the history at this site.

Currently, I am working with the St. Mary’s County Commissioners and the President of Save the Villlage, Inc., Mrs. Virginia Nolan, to help in this endeavor. To help Mrs. Nolan meet the required match to save the historic Carver Heights Building, please contact her at 47477 South Hampton, Lexington Park, MD 20653. This group is currently planning several fundraising events to raise money for this worthwhile project.

Over the years in the Senate, I have voted for several bond bills to preserve the old Bel Alton High School in Charles County. The Bel Alton School was one of the last totally segregated schools in the State of Maryland.

Soon, the new, impressive Bel Alton site will open as a community center. This all came about through the work of the Bel Alton Alumni Association, Senator Thomas “Mac” Middleton, the Charles County Commissioners, the federal government and tax-deductible donations from people who did not want to see this historic landmark closed. This is a perfect example of how working with governments at all levels as well as advocates of preserving crucial history can restore a treasured monument.

I see no reason why the Old Carver Heights building cannot achieve the same magnificent achievements that the Old Wallville and Bel Alton school groups have achieved. It is vital that we maintain this integral part of all of our history.

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