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Haley brings Calvert audience back to their 'Roots'
North Beach, MD - 1/20/2014
By Dick Myers
As attendees packed into the North Beach Town Hall for the lecture by Chris Haley, nephew of “Roots” author, the late Alex Haley, they were asked to sign a ledger. Later Haley explained that the ledger of signatures would become an historical document in the future, something to be studied and learned from. “You guys are a part of history,” he said. He added, “Years from now someone will see it and it will click.”
Haley is director of the Study of Slavery in Maryland at the Maryland State Archives research center. Since 2001 grants from the National Park Service and the U.S. Department of Education have helped to support the division’s research. Awarded a three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education in 2010, the Legacy of Slavery Division is currently focusing its research on antebellum communities and resistance to slavery in five counties of Maryland Eastern Shore.
Although Haley talked about slavery in general in Maryland, he also focused on some original newspaper clippings in which rewards were offered for return of runaway slaves from Calvert County. He suggested anyone interested in finding out more about slavery in a particular community to go to the Maryland Archives extensive slavery website, which is about to be expanded in the next month. Go to http://slavery.msa.maryland.gov/
Haley was introduced to Calvert County when he was invited to speak at Plum Point Elementary School and was impressed with the feedback he got from the students. The standing-room-only event at the town hall on January 19, during Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend, was sponsored by the Bayside History Museum, Calvert Library and the Friends of Chesapeake Beach Railway Museum.
Haley has worked for the Maryland Archives for 20 years. When he first moved to Maryland he said he was surprised to learn that historical figures of the slavery movement, most notably Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, were actually from Maryland. He thought they came from “down south.” That lack of knowledge extends to many Marylanders. “These people are part of your heritage in Maryland,” he said.
Haley noted there is a disparity of documentation about how many trips Tubman took to the south and how many slaves she was responsible for leading to freedom. The widely used number is 19 trips and 300 people led through the Underground Railroad. But he also showed documentation that br0ught the number down to eight trips and 40 slaves.
Haley said good sources for information about slavery are newspapers and federal and state census documents. He said much can be learned not only studying slaves but slaveholders. He said many slaveholders believed they were doing the right thing because the African-American slaves could not take care of themselves, no matter how unenlightened that opinion is viewed today.
From the first census in 1790 through the Civil War, Calvert County’s population was pretty consistently 50 percent slave and 50 percent free
Slaves were property, with the average cost of a slave according to research, about $800 in 1860 or about $17,100 in today’s dollars. Thus to put it in a modern context, two slaves would be worth about the average price of a new car.
The movie “12 Years a Slave,” based on a book written by a slave, presents an accurate portrayal of the punishment given to slaves and how that punishment lingered for a long-time, Haley said. He noted an increased Hollywood interest in the subject.
The newspaper articles displayed in a Power Point presentation showed runaway slaves from several Calvert County slave owners and rewards being offered varying from $30 to $200. The narratives in the advertisements told interesting stories about each slave. The state website gives information about the various runaways and their fate, if known. Some names show up years later but it is often difficult to tell if they are the same person.
Haley said that introducing students to documents such as the newspaper articles can turn a boring subject into one that’s meaningful in their lives, with familiar names and interesting stories told without a filter.
Students can learn, he said, that they are a part of history: “That everything I do could be significant.”
The program was moderated by Grace Mary Brady with the Bayside History Museum.
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