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Retracing The Journey Through Hallowed Ground

Collaborating with Black historical societies and scholars, regional history project publishes African-American history volume on national heritage area

Few regions in the U.S. boast a more plentiful array of historically signifi cant sites than the 175-mile-long route between Monticello, Va., and Gettysburg, Pa. From the most venerated of Civil War battlefi elds to nine historic homes of U.S. presidents and thousands of sites listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the region, named the Journey Through Hallowed Ground, acquired status as a National Heritage Area in 2008 with approval by the U.S. Congress and President George W. Bush

The four-state Journey Through Hallowed Ground corridor, spanning 15 counties in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania along U.S. Route 15, is one of 48 National Heritage Areas in the U.S. This past year, the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership, the coalition of 350 nonprofi t organizations, businesses, state agencies and local governments that lobbied for the National Heritage Area designation, published Honoring Their Paths: African American Contributions Along the Journey Through Hallowed Ground, a 248-page book highlighting African-American history in the region

“In 2005 when we started to compile the history within the region for the National Heritage area – the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area – what we found woefully lacking was the story of the contributions of African-Americans,” says Beth Erickson, vice president of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership. “There were a lot of sites on the National Register of Historic Places discussing bricks-and-mortar, but very little talking about the people who had made the contributions that happened within those bricks-and-mortar.” Written by Northern Virginia-based independent historian Dr. Deborah Lee, the book is the fi fth publication developed by the partnership that focuses on JTHG. With archival maps, images and photographs, the book documents regional African-American history spanning 300 years from the colonial era through the civil rights movement. It was written with the input and expertise of historians, local offi cials and members of African-American historical groups according to the partnership

Among those representing African-American historical groups were individuals from the Afro-American Historical Association of Fauquier County ( Va.), Jefferson County (W.Va.) Black History Preservation Society, Orange County (Va.)

African American Historical Association and the Doleman Black Heritage Museum of Hagerstown, Md

“The spirit of collaboration to share the stories and the willingness and excitement of sharing history with others is what sparked Honoring Their Paths,” Erickson says. “It’s the individual stories that resonate most with people – the individual stories that people can connect to. It was stories of people … in extraordinary circumstances and their stories haven’t been told.” Scholars say Honoring Their Paths represents an example of the growing effort by public history entities, such as museums and historical Associations, to document the broadest possible range of socially and politically signifi cant history. Within American history museums, public exhibitions, books and historic sites, that effort has meant comprehensive explorations of African-American, Native American, Asian-American and Latino contributions to

U. S. life and society

“When I was taking undergraduate history courses, history was basically memorizing names and dates. … And that was changing as we moved into the 1960s, especially toward the late ’60s, and we started to come into the practice of history that was referred to as ‘social history,'” said Dr. James Oliver Horton, a retired George Washington University history professor. “And that looked not at just the names and the dates of the presidents and military leaders, but it started to look at the people generally.” Dr. Edward Linenthal, professor of history at Indiana University, says there’s been an evolution in public history due in part to institutions taking advantage of academic historians’ new and innovative research

“Academic historians realize that a new Civil War exhibition at a major site, or not such a major site, really takes advantage of the latest and best scholarship,” says Linenthal, who has worked as a National Park Service consultant

Black History Breaking Through

Many of the stories recounted in Honoring Their Paths are those from the decades leading up to and including the Civil War. Accounts of free African-Americans who assisted runaway slaves are documented as well as those about the escaped slaves themselves

Chapters on Civil War battlefi elds include stories about free Black landowners whose property became temporary military camps when the North and South armies clashed. And there’s considerable documentation about the church foundings by Blacks in the post-Civil War era

Leland Warring’s story captures the spirit of Honoring Their Paths. After the Civil War’s outbreak, Warring, a slave in Spotsylvania County, Va., escaped and found freedom behind Union Army lines in Alexandria, Va. During the war, Warring learned to read and write well enough that he started a night school for 50 other newly freed slaves. In 1863, Warring founded the Shiloh Baptist Church in Alexandria, a city that lies to the east of the JTHG route

Following the war, Warring’s religious devotion and quest to improve the condition of former slaves led him to return to the Virginia Piedmont where he established four more churches and a school within JTHG counties. Remembered as a “powerful preacher and a very capable leader,” Warring lived out his last years until 1891 as a minister at a church he had founded in Culpeper, Va

All fi ve churches founded by Warring remain active to this day, according to Honoring Their Paths

The history in Honoring Their Paths draws upon the work of well-established African-American historical organizations that populate the four states in the JTHG region as well as from African- Americans who are descendants of historical fi gures profi led in the book. Lee recalls that before she joined the Honoring Their Paths project she attended a public meeting in Northern Virginia where individuals from various African-American historical societies raised questions about the extent to which consideration of Black history seemed missing

“The staff of the Journey recognized that was lacking when they heard from people who knew about the history,” Lee says. “(The staff members) weren’t historians and knew they couldn’t just pull it out of the air.” Recommended to the partnership’s effort to document African- American history based on having worked on an African-American public history in Virginia’s Loudoun County, Lee became the project’s writer and collaborated with individuals from more than 20 organizations. She says the book took longer to write than it would have had she worked on it alone, but she considers the process valuable

“(The process) actually turned out to be quite benefi cial in gaining support for the Journey and for people in localities to get to know the people involved in the Journey and what the goals, objectives and strategies were,” Lee says

Erickson agrees that the idea to develop Honoring Their Paths as a collaborative venture gave the project credibility among African- Americans and others who supported the project. The project attracted funding support from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission

“We had over 34 national and regional advisers on the project

Deborah Lee did a phenomenal job of constantly checking in and to say ‘these are the people we’re profi ling, what stories, what are the connections, can you help share with me primary source documents,’ because everything we needed to put in that book all needed to be rooted in primary source documents,” Erickson says

Civil War Sesquicentennial

Over the next several years, it’s expected that Civil War sites will see unusually high numbers of visitors as the nation celebrates the 150th anniversary of the war. With the Gettysburg National Military Park and the Antietam National Battlefi eld included in the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area, partnership offi cials anticipate high numbers of visitors fl ocking to the region. National Heritage Area status enables organizations to qualify for federal assistance in promoting tourism and in aiding historic preservation efforts in the designated region

African-American history along the Journey Through Hallowed Ground is expected to have more visibility over the next few years

“African-American history is worth knowing regardless of who you are or what your interest is,” says Horton, who served as a historian at the National Museum of American History-Smithsonian Institution

“African-American history is American history. And it’s made by Americans in America,” Horton said. “So if you want to understand the nation you can’t understand the nation by removing important aspects, important portions of the history.”

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