“The Hill” in Easton, now known as America’s OLDEST Free Black neighborhood
Earlier this evening, in front of a standing-room-only crowd at the Academy Art Museum, Professor Dale Glenwood Green of Morgan State University announced evidence that “The Hill” neighborhood is Easton is now known as the OLDEST Free Black neighborhood in AMERICA.
Up until tonight, the distinction of being the oldest free neighborhood of color was held by Treme, in New Orleans.
How do they know?
They unearthed proof that a woman named Grace Brooks purchased a home on the Hill in 1789. In her name alone.
And that announcement came on the eve of this Juneteenth, the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.
The implications of this are enormous, of course. Socially, politically and economically, Easton will experience shifts as this progresses – and who knows what kind of shifts will take place?
Smart leadership is going to be key – like Professor Green, the Frederick Douglass Society, Priscilla Morris, Carlene Phoenix, the Easton Town Council, local clergy and the myriad others – because big fancy titles and historic determinations and billions of tourism dollars could easily lead to tighter regulations and scrutiny and more building inspectors which can make for some tight feelings in poor neighborhoods. Things can unravel fast, and unintended consequences are hard to go back and undo.
Yet, Professor Green’s speech was electrifying and as a native son, he’s got all kinds of skin in this game. They are paying keen attention to all of it.
Whoa, Easton. Look at YOU.
Two things he said tonight that were fantastic:
First, he said five times – this is AMERICAN history, not black history, or Easton history, or Talbot County history – it’s our history.
And second, his main theme was – “let the LAND tell the story.” Spoken like a true historian, he was saying that it was the slow and steady searching of documents relating to land ownership that surfaced Grace Brooks’ story. It was the anthropology and the archaeology and the slow methodical research that unearthed details of what really happened on that little piece of land on The Hill.
He also said some pretty great stuff about not being judgmental about the area, which hit home.
Grace Brooks. Decades before Douglass, long before Harriet Tubman.
A woman who emancipated herself, her kids, her grandkids, and then bought a house. In 1789.
On the Hill.
What other stories are just waiting to be told?