(St. Mary’s City, Md) Feb. 2, 2017 – An anonymous gift to St. Mary’s College of Maryland will aid the College with educating students and the public on its relationship to slavery.
A couple who wish to remain anonymous donated shackles over the summer they discovered in a barn in the Chaptico, Md., area. The shackles will be one of several items on display Jan. 31 through Feb. 18 at the Boyden Gallery’s “Africa and the African Diaspora in Campus Collections” exhibition in recognition of Black History Month. President Tuajuanda C. Jordan officially opened the gallery during a reception Wednesday, Feb. 1.
During the receptions opening remarks, Dr. Jordan said, “When the shackles were brought to my office to see, I could not bring myself to touch them. That period of Black America’s history, although it can be colored with stories of resilience and strength, ingenuity and faith, is a dark period that became very real and personal when those shackles were unveiled to me.”
The exhibition features objects held in campus collections that are relevant to teaching and learning about Africa, the African Diaspora and African American history, culture and experience.
Julia King, professor of anthropology and Aldom-Plansoen Honors College Professor, said that preliminary research suggests “these iron foot or ankle shackles appear to date to the 19th century.” King is in the process of researching the farm where the shackles were found and the history of the use of enslaved laborers on it.
St. Mary’s College Archivist Kent Randell said it was very generous of the couple “to put the [shackles] in the public trust to be used for the educational and interpretive mission of the College.”
The shackles are not directly tied to the College; however, the College continues to collect information on the institution’s history, its records and the history of St. Mary’s County. The shackles may help to initiate a conversation, Randell said, of “confronting and reconciling the College’s relationship with slavery,” already begun by other colleges such as Georgetown University, Brown University, the University of Virginia and the University of Maryland.
“Our nation’s connections to slavery are difficult to grapple with, but history teaches us that every moment can be a learning experience. Although we cannot go back and change the past, we can use hard lessons from history to guide our collective path towards the future,” said Jordan.
“None of us living today are responsible for the fact of slavery, but we are responsible for trying to understand the structures we’ve inherited that are the legacy of slavery,” King said.
King said slavery was not uncommon in the St. Mary’s City landscape.
According to information from “All of Us Would Walk Together,” a digital exhibit about the 19th-century component of Historic St. Mary’s City, until 1864, most African Americans in St. Mary’s County were enslaved in some form or another. For those who were not, they labored and lived only one step removed from bondage.
The website is made up of two primary components, an informative exhibit, and a blog that details the process of conducting historical archaeological research.
The exhibit is just one way the College is examining its relationship to slavery.
Jeffrey Lamar Coleman, associate professor of English at the College, said two new courses focusing on the subject matter are in development stages. For the fall, Adriana M. Brodsky, associate professor of history, is scheduled to teach a course on slavery in St. Mary’s County, while King and Iris Ford, associate professor of anthropology, would teach a seminar on slavery at the seminary, in the county, and in the greater region in spring 2018.
Coleman said a symposium, sponsored by the African and African Diaspora Studies program, focused on the subject matter is currently in the planning stages for the fall.