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28695: (news) Chamberlain: Saving San Domingo (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>


   MARDELA SPRINGS, Md., July 23 (AP) -- Amid the gentle hills and rural
one-lane roads of northern Wicomico County stand the remains of a community
started by free blacks in the early 19th century.
   Called San Domingo and now marked mostly by aging graves, the community
along the Nanticoke River was once a bustling farming community for 1,000
free blacks before the Civil War.
   Never heard of San Domingo? Neither have most people, which is why a
group of San Domingo descendants is working to collect oral histories of
the community and preserve what little remains of the settlement.
   San Domingo sits between Mardela Springs and Sharptown, about 50 miles
southeast of Annapolis near the Maryland-Delaware border but it was never
incorporated as a town. The origin of the name is a mystery. Residents grew
vegetables and raised hogs, worked on white-owned farms in the area and
sent their children to what was called Sharptown Colored School before it
closed in 1961.
   Leading the charge to document San Domingo's history is Newell Quinton,
62, who grew up there. Quinton has strong memories of the community,
especially summer camp meetings at Zion Methodist Church and fall
gatherings to slaughter hogs. But like many of his generation, he left San
Domingo for Baltimore after high school.
   When Quinton returned in 2002 after 40 years away, he was stunned to
find few had any recollection of the community. The school -- one of about
5,000 schools called Rosenwald schools that were built for black children
by a philanthropist in the early 20th century -- was falling apart. And
none of the young people he met knew their ancestors were likely free men
decades before emancipation.
   "We need to be concerned about the rapid erosion of the community," said
Quinton, who raises chickens and hogs a short drive from where he grew up.
"Culture's important. You really don't want to lose it all."
   Tracing the community's history hasn't been easy. Except for a few acres
of headstones near the church, not much remains from San Domingo's
19th-century era. The first mention Quinton has found of San Domingo is
U.S. Census records from 1820, when a free slave named James Brown
purchased land near the Delaware line.
   As to where the name San Domingo came from, the question may be lost to
history. Quinton hasn't been able to discover where Brown came from, and no
one he's interviewed yet has an explanation. Some talk of older relatives
who said their families had roots in Haiti or the Caribbean, and some
county maps list a "Santo Domingo" where the community stands, but Quinton
says the early history of the settlement will remain hazy.
   "We really don't know," Quinton said. "There's been so much time passed
and so many people deceased who did know. It's just gone."
   Instead, Quinton and his neighbors are focused on preserving the memory
of the community as it was in the early 20th century, before integration
and more mobility for black residents changed the isolated hamlet.
   Sylvia Goslee, 70, attended Sharptown Colored School and remembers
picking cucumbers, string beans and tomatoes as a child on a farm nearby.
Most residents today, she said, don't know anything about San Domingo.
   "People have mostly moved out, and then when the new ones come in, they
don't have any pride in keeping our community," Goslee said.
   Quinton drove out to the old school to show the danger of San Domingo
being lost entirely. He has to describe the walkway and fence around the
two-story, four-room school he attended because they're gone.
   A rusty pole in the back shows where a merry-go-round used to be. The
baseball field he remembers is overgrown. The building's white clapboard
has been covered in aluminum siding painted white, and inside, 1960s-era
wood paneling was put up over most of the windows.
   The old school still isn't heated or cooled, and no original furniture
remains. Quinton is seeking a grant from the Maryland Historical Trust to
start restoration on Sharptown Colored School.
   The Rosenwald schools, built in 15 states by Julius Rosenwald, the
president of Sears, Roebuck and Co., were listed as endangered historical
sites in 2002 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
   Of the original 5,000 schools, only a small percentage remain, said
Tracy Hayes, a program assistant for the trust's Rosenwald Initiative in
Charleston, S.C. Maryland may once have had 149 Rosenwald schools, but no
one knows how many are still standing, she said. The problem is that so
many were in rural areas and, like the Sharptown Colored School, they were
abandoned after integration.
   "Because of the rural nature, a lot of these buildings are standing
unknown and abandoned in rural areas, and people today don't know what
they're looking at when they see them," Hayes said.
   Craig Barton, an architect and professor at the University of Virginia,
said Rosenwald schools are "highly charged emotional sites on the
African-American landscape."
   "In most cases they were the civic centers of African-American
communities," Barton said. "Many of the parents were folks who hadn't had
the opportunity to be educated. ... They were the places where parents
invested their aspirations in the success of their children."
   In San Domingo, Quinton and his siblings hope to save the school they
attended and fill it with oral histories of the community along the
   "Some of the kids you talk to today say, 'Oh, that's ancient history,'"
said Quinton's sister, 63-year-old Alma Hackett. "When you try to tell them
how hard it was, they say 'Here we go again, more ancient history.' But in
order to build on your future you have to know your history. We've got to
keep it alive."
   On the Net:
   Rosenwald School Initiative: http://www.rosenwaldschools.com