St. Mary’s College to Dedicate its Unique Memorial to the Enslaved Peoples of Southern Maryland

Submitted by Michael Bruckler on November 17, 2020 - 1:40 pm
November 17, 2020
By Michael Bruckler

St. Mary’s College of Maryland announces the virtual dedication of The Commemorative to Enslaved Peoples of Southern Maryland with keynote speaker Jelani Cobb will take place on November 21 at 11:00 a.m. at www.smcm.edu/commemorative.

The history of the project dates back to summer 2016 when remains of slave quarters were discovered during archaeological site work in advance of construction of the Jamie L. Roberts Stadium. St. Mary’s College President Tuajuanda C. Jordan immediately formed focus groups comprised of students, faculty, staff and community members to decide the appropriate way to honor the slave quarter artifacts discovered.

Once it was decided to erect a structural tribute, President Jordan formed a process whereby the campus community and external community members could learn about and vote on designs submitted for creating a reflective memorial. In March 2019, the design firm RE:site was selected to build the Commemorative. In October 2020, installation on the campus began, leading toward the dedication of The Commemorative to Enslaved Peoples of Southern Maryland. 

The Commemorative will serve as an essential learning tool in the College’s diversity and inclusion efforts. The immersive art experience honors the story of resilience, persistence and creative problem-solving that defined the lives of the enslaved individuals that lived in St. Mary’s City between 1750 and 1815.

Designed by Shane Allbritton and Norman Lee of RE:site and featuring the poetry of Quenton Baker, The Commemorative to Enslaved Peoples of Southern Maryland allows visitors to engage in an individualized experience, contemplating the effects of slavery. The designers used historical documents, archaeological research and slave folklore to recontextualize how we examine this shared history. The inclusion of erasure poetry, largely culled from slave advertisements, and a structure inspired by the “ghost frame” architecture at Historic St. Mary’s City, aims to inform and heighten the dialogue around slavery in Southern Maryland and the region. A unique feature is the lighting of the structure at night that beams the erasure poetry onto the surrounding landscape.

The virtual dedication — entitled From Absence to Presence — will feature a keynote by Jelani Cobb, billed as one of the clearest and smartest voices in today’s conversations around race issues. Cobb is a staff writer for The New Yorker, a historian and a professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. As a columnist, he received the Sidney Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism. The author of “The Devil & Dave Chappelle & Other Essays” (Basic Books, 2007) and “The Substance of Hope: Barack Obama and the Paradox of Progress” (Walker & Co., 2010), the latter was re-released in October 2020 with a new introduction by the author.

The dedication will also feature Baker reciting several poems found on the walls of the Commemorative, a time lapse of the structure “rising” from the ground, and a student creative piece reflecting on the meaning of freedom.

The Commemorative to Enslaved Peoples of Southern Maryland dedication includes reflections on its importance from the following:

  • Governor of Maryland Larry Hogan (R-Md.)
  • U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.)
  • U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.)
  • U.S. Congressman Steny Hoyer (D-Md.)
  • Maryland State Senator Jack Bailey (R-Md.)
  • Maryland State Delegate/Speaker of the House Adrienne A. Jones (D-Md.)
  • Maryland State Delegate Brian M. Crosby (D-Md.)
  • St. Mary’s County Commissioner Eric Colvin (R-Md.)
  • Baltimore City Council President and Mayor-elect Brandon M. Scott (D-Md.)

The Commemorative was made possible through funding by the following: Governor Larry J. Hogan and the State of Maryland, Dr. Jeffrey J. Byrd and Mrs. Elizabeth A. Byrd, Maryland Heritage Areas Authority, Maryland State Arts Council, Southern Maryland Heritage Area, and
St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

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