This photograph is one example of what April wrote about yesterday. It purportedly shows the Owen House in 1925. The young African American woman walking by may have been a resident; we do not know. We do know that there was a large African American population in the vicinity after the Civil War and, likely, before as well. Carol Cowherd has been collecting census data for Port Tobacco and its immediate environs...she should have a thing or two to say on the matter soon.
Last December, I came before the Charles County Commissioners to ask them to support a federal grant application that I had put together, which they did. After my presentation, one of the commissioners, Dr. Edith Patterson, asked me to be sure that we addressed African American history in the course of our research, especially the matter of slavery. I did not have a response for her.
In part, as an anthroplogically trained archaeologist I take for granted that we will explore all facets of a community...that is what we do and it is one of archaeology's principal strengths that it examines the lives of the general populace, including those of the poor and disenfranchised, and not just the wealthy and politically powerful. I've got to admit, as well, that I'm not sure what we can contribute to the understanding of slavery that has not already been discovered by a host of very able archaeologists specializing in the subject and period of slavery. No doubt that opinion will change with immersion in the subject.
But I have another interest and one, I suspect will be shared by others: African American life after Emancipation, and specifically the formation of African American communities through development of African American institutions. This is the story of groups that, in the face of Jim Crow laws, general racial bigotry, poverty, and highly circumscribed economic opportunity created bonds of community, political systems, schools, churches, and businesses. It is a story that brings the researcher and reader much closer to the realities of the early 21st century. And it is a story that can be explored and told largely through the study of African American institutions.
Happily, half the team (April and I) have been part of a growing movement in archaeology to study local institutions; first in our research and publication on rural one-room schoolhouses, and currently in editing a book on the archaeology of institutional life, a book filled with contributions from scholars in the USA, the United Kingdom, and Australia (anticipated publication in December 2008, University of Alabama Press). We will study African American life in Port Tobacco, looking at the formation and growth of African American institutions alongside those of their European American neighbors, and the persistence of those institutions after many of the European American institutions left town...along with much of the European American population...with the county seat.
As in all things related to the history and archaeology of Port Tobacco, we welcome collaborators, professional and avocational.