February is Black History Month, and at Delmarva’s Own we’re going to dedicate all three episodes this month to our black brothers and sisters. You can hear the podcast with Dr. Clara by clicking this link.
The story of the Black American experience formed the American experience as a whole.
We cannot separate the history of our nation from the history of our black brothers and sisters, and I’d argue there is nowhere in the United States with a more meaningful impact on the story of Black Americans than there is right here on Delmarva.
This week we are joined by Dr. Clara Small to help us begin to dig in to the vast treasure-trove of history available to us.
Who is Dr. Clara L. Small?
She’s a local historian who has dedicated her life to telling the story of black Americans from Delmarva. Professor Emeritus at Salisbury University, Hall spent 36 years teaching history in courses including World Civilizations, Civil Rights in American Society, African American History and related topics. It might be argued that she is the region’s foremost scholar on the history of Black America on the Delmarva Peninsula.
Dr. Small has authored or co-authored 7 books, with her 8th due out before the leaves bud out on the trees this spring. Titles include:
- Reality Check: Brief Biographies of African-Americans on Delmarva
- Compass Points: Profiles & Biographies of African Americans from the Delmarva Peninsula, Volumes 1,2, & 3 [Publication Forthcoming]
- Men of Color: To Arms! Manumitted Slaves and Free Blacks from the Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland Who Served in the Civil War
- They Wore Blue and Their Hearts Were Loyal: The United States Colored Troops of Dorchester County Maryland
Her work has garnered her acclaim and recognition resulting in numerous awards including:
- University System of Maryland Regent’s Award for Public Service
- Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore’s Frank H. Morris Humanitarian Award
- The Harriet Tubman Lifetime Achievement Award
Dr. Small has also served as a member of the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture.
We’re confident Dr. Small is the right guide as we journey into the past here on Delmarva.
While there are hundreds of people Dr. Small has written about in her books, in this episode we focus on two main figures and one group of Civil War Veterans of the Union Army.
To begin we discuss abolitionist Anna Marie Murray Douglas. If her last name sounds familiar, it should. She was the somewhat less famous wife of the voice of slavery, Frederick Douglas. As the Smithsonian Magazine suggests, Anna made Frederick’s work possible in more ways than one.
The daughter of manumitted slaves – that is, enslaved people who had been freed – Anna was a free black person herself. This meant she was able to work to make money and spend it as she wished. After meeting Frederick, she paid his way to freedom including spending money to secure the needed paperwork for a trip north, purchasing and tailoring a sailor’s uniform to use as a disguise, and ultimately purchasing the goods they’d need to begin their married life together. In this podcast episode we discuss the Frederick’s and Anna’s life together and the impact Anna’s support of Frederick had on his career.
We then move from the backbone of the abolition movement to the anthem of the Civil Right’s movement of the 1950’s and 60’s. We Will Overcome, the song heard sung throughout the movement was adapted from a hymn written by Reverend Charles Tindley. Reverend Tindley was born In Berlin, Maryland. Tindley was self-taught, sometimes walking as many as 14 miles to acquire his reading materials and working as a church janitor to gain access to theology books. Podcast listeners will be able to hear two of his famous hymns including the aforementioned We Will Overcome, as well as Stand By Me, which was adapted into the 1960’s hit of the same name by Ben E. King and the Drifters.
Finally, we spend a bit of time talking about the Unionville 18. This group of black Civil War Veterans fought for the Union army. In a twist of irony, Maryland sold slaves to the north to fight in the civil war at the cost of $300 each. You read that right.
Maryland slaves were sold to the north to fight for their freedom.
After the war these 18 previously enslaved veterans returned to the Eastern Shore and founded Unionville, Maryland, a town about 7 miles to the northwest of Easton. (Easton, for what it’s worth, is the birthplace of Frederick Douglas. We like full circles on Delmarva’s Own podcast.) According to Dr. Small, Unionville had no white residents until 2005.
That’s an interesting fact to consider. A town established by 18 black Union Civil War veterans had no white residents almost a century and a half after its founding. Questions like this are difficult to address. But we must.
Dr. Small has forgotten more about the black history of Delmarva than I’ll ever learn. She is an absolute wealth of knowledge. As impressive as her intellect is, what I appreciated her most is her ability to recognize the nuance involved in discussing difficult topics and questions. She doesn’t stray away from the topics. On the contrary, she embraces the hard questions. Questions like, “Did the north buy slaves to fight in the war?” Or, “…is it true that blacks owned slaves too?”
Dr. Small encourages us to ask the difficult questions so we can come to a mutual understanding of the truth of the matter.
We at Delmarva’s Own endeavor to do the same. We want to be able to ask the the difficult questions and be able to stand in tension with difficult answers. Because when it comes to discussing black history in the United States, particularly here on Delmarva, we need to be able to face the reality of our past.
Understanding where we come from will help us to move forward.
Dr. Small is available for lectures, interviews, and pretty much any other means of sharing her knowledge. She is available by email at CLSMALL@salisbury.edu. You can find her books at your local library as well as at Salt Water Media. (Just search for her name on the drop-down list of authors.)