Jones appointed to commission
Jones appointed to state history, culture commission
CUMBERLAND — Mary Louise Jones had for some time known the first African American school in Allegany County was owned by a former slave owner named Mary Hoye. A religious woman, Hoye wanted children to read the Bible, so she donated land for a building in her will following her death in 1875 at the age of 87.
But Jones had no idea just how close she was to learning more about the school until she saw a deed for a home adjacent to her own property in the 200 block of Independence Street two years ago. Hoye had been a previous owner.
"I was ecstatic," Jones said on discovering the site for the old school, which was likely built in the 1880s. "We had seen for years what was part of a concrete wall and we now know that was part of the school's foundation."
Similar quests to unveil the history of African-Americans in Allegany County have landed Jones a four-year appointment on the state Commission for African-American History and Culture. Nominated by Sen. John Hafer, Jones began her term in July.
Jones is only the third member from Allegany County to be appointed to the commission, which began in 1969. Commission members were in town last month to tour the Carver Community Center on Frederick Street, a former school for black students, which she's been told is the first existing black school to be preserved in Maryland.
"That was good to hear," she said, recalling current efforts of groups in Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties working on similar projects. "People in Allegany County think we're the last to get things done."
The commission has a four point agenda: serving as a clearinghouse for African American history, providing programs and workshops, identifying and preserving buildings of historical and cultural importance, and planning and orchestrating the state's annual observation of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.
The Maryland State Department of Education even used research supplied by the commission to pilot lessons on African-American history last year.
Although African-American history has long been a fascination for Jones, she began a more in-depth journey locally by taking a look at the county's three oldest black churches: Metropolitan A.M.E., Ebenezer Baptist and McKendree United Methodist. These churches and other places of worship have been the most influential in black history and culture, she said.
In small communities like those in Western Maryland, which have never had a large presence of African-Americans, some people are inclined to believe there is no African American history, Jones said. Her task as a member of the commission, therefore, will be to prove otherwise.
"It's a way of preserving history that's otherwise going to be lost. Usually in small communities there's no written history of African-Americans... (They) helped build Allegany County, too."
Jones said she sees her appointment as an opportunity to bring additional resources to Allegany County for preserving and identifying local sites of importance to African-American history.
She's writing a book on the subject and is seeking primary sources such as documents and photographs that tell the stories of the county's early African Americans, in addition to artifacts she'd like to display in a room at the Carver Community Center.
African-Americans, she said, weren't CEOs when they made their living here years ago, but they were in the mines and they were in the fields and, therefore, are a part of this area's history.
"These local (historic sites), if they're emphasizing the history or the culture of this county, we're part of that presence. It's not necessarily for African Americans but others who have the same idea in mind, and that's the preservation of history"
Tai Shadrick, Cumberland Times-News
Photograph - Mary Louise Jones is sworn in as a member of the Maryland Commission for African-American History and Culture by Allegany County Clerk of the Court Dawne Lindsey on Friday.
Allegany County, Maryland
African Americans, History; Allegany County (Md.), History.
Allegany County (Md.), 1890-2008