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Students’ book new approach to gathering history, working together

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Students’ book new approach to gathering history, working together


Martin Luther King Jr. Day observances in Allegany County included the debut of a book on the rich history of Cumberland’s black community, researched and written solely by local high school students.
Students from Allegany and Fort Hill high schools gathered at Allegany College of Maryland on Monday to sign copies of the book Hidden Stories, Discovered Voices: A History of African Americans in Cumberland, Maryland, which they worked on for two years to produce.

It was a special project for several reasons, said Allegany senior Daniel Nelson.

“It’s cool because it’s on a topic we’ve never done, and because of the collaboration with Fort Hill, it’s also a new approach,” he said.
Allegany has been compiling and publishing local history volumes as a project in research methods classes for several years, explained Wesley Cooper, one of the instructors who advised students through the project. Past topics have included the former Lonaconing Silk Mill, World War II veterans, the Great Depression, the 1950s and the industrial age in Allegany County.

Fort Hill began a similar program last year, and instructors from the two schools had the idea to team up for the first time to complete a major project on the history of Cumberland’s black community — a topic they’d never fully attempted before.

“We realized that if we were going to do a project on African-American history, we shouldn’t limit it to just one school or one area,” Cooper said.

More than 40 students worked on the project over two years. They broke into small groups to research various subjects included in the book, such as neighborhoods, churches, sports and education.
The research included many oral history interviews, explained Fort Hill student Margaret Edmiston, whose work focused on churches and the history of where and how black residents could attend religious services in Cumberland.

“We looked to community members and interviewed them about their experiences and stories,” she said. “We started with people that we knew, and they referred us to other people for more interviews.”

Other students worked more on the design end, such as Allegany senior Ryan Marchini, who handled graphic design and page layout for the 84-page book.
“This was a long project,” Marchini said. “We started before the school year ended last year and worked up until just before Christmas.”

The book fills a void in the annals of local history, said Dan Whetzel, supervisor of social studies for Allegany County public schools.
“There’s really a gap in the historical record,” Whetzel said. “There’s really not much written. In the standard books we rely upon for historical information you’ll find a paragraph or two.”

The book covers many topics on the black experience in Cumberland’s history, ranging from public discrimination to the Underground Railroad, from religious services to entertainment.

Fort Hill students also published a separate booklet documenting important landmarks related to black history in Cumberland. They produced a virtual tour map of the landmarks that will be available at the Allegany County Board of Education Web site

Bonnie Austin, chair of the Carver Community Center board of directors, thanked the students for their hard work on the project. “This was a great beginning,” Austin said. “We hope we can continue to document the history of African-Americans in Allegany County.”

Proceeds from books sold at Monday’s event will benefit the Carver Community Center.


Megan Miller, Cumberland Times News

The photograph of James Ashby, left, and Allegany senior Ryan Alderson is from the Cumberland Times News


Collection Location:
Allegany County, Maryland

African Americans, History; Allegany County (Md.), History.

Allegany County (Md.), 1890-2008

Western Maryland Regional Library
100 South Potomac Street
Hagerstown, Maryland 21740

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