With just the right blend of humor and history William Jarmon Jr., a well known community volunteer and active participant in Dorchester County’s African-American community, was the perfect master of ceremonies at the 16th annual Heritage Day Celebration held on Oct. 7 at the Faith United Methodist Church in East New Market.
The day’s theme, “Bring our history home,” was exemplified flawlessly by guest speaker Dr. Clara Small, retired professor of history at Salisbury University and author of several authoritative books detailing the history of African-Americans on the Eastern Shore.
Before Dr. Small’s presentation the Rev. Ashley Jones gave the opening prayer. East New Market Vice Mayor David Tolley spoke briefly and asked, “How can we make our lives better so we can live in harmony.” He asked for “the courage to keep on keeping on.”
Heritage Committee members Lametha Elbert, Doretha Abraham, and East New Market Commissioner Mary Dennard-Turner welcomed visitors, led a memorial service, and introduced speakers.
East New Market Mayor Caroline Cline read a charming poem, “Drinking from my Saucer,” that she pointed out is “not by a famous person but it has a message that applies to today.” The poem’s theme was summed up by a verse: “I thank God for his blessings and the mercies He’s bestowed, I’m drinking from my saucer ‘cause my cup has overflowed.”
State Delegate Johnny Mautz said, “There’s some good stuff going on in our world that doesn’t get enough play ... I have 100 percent faith that we will tamp out evil.” County Councilman Rick Price noted, “I am confident that positive actions and their effect on the community will prevail.”
“In times like these we need to stick together,” said Cambridge Mayor Victoria Jackson-Stanley, “no matter what’s going on in Washington or Russia or anywhere else. It takes we in the community to keep our heritage alive. When we work together and start talking together we understand each other.”
State Senator Addie Eckardt urged people to “Take the best of where we’ve been because that story hasn’t always been told. Those connections weave the web that make us strong, that unite our communities.”
A remarkable young dancer, Altear Frock, offered a reverent liturgical dance that nearly brought her to tears and the audience to frequent murmurs of praise.
Dr. Small opened her talk by acknowledging, “This (Eastern Shore) is one of the richest areas in the country, especially for African-American history.” But, she added it has been neglected with most African-American history written “about us and rarely by us.” East New Market in Dorchester County has a rich history.
From there the Rev. Samuel Green helped slaves to escape. It was one of the routes used by the iconic Harriet Tubman. It is where Sarah Young received 42 acres of land when her owner died and from which she gave land in 1843 for a school and the current church.
Dr. Small presented an historical account of the service of the “colored troops” from Dorchester County who fought for the Union during the Civil War. She recounted that 563 were freed slaves of which 382 were freed to serve by owners who were paid $300 per slave; and, 181 were slaves freed on the condition that they serve the Union cause.
Dr. Small described freed slave and Union soldier Thomas Woolford whose age and birth date are uncertain. The history of slaves was not recorded and most could not read or write. But the speaker’s extensive research filled in many blanks about Thomas Woolford’s life history.
Over 25 percent of the county’s colored troops died of disease, living conditions, poor medical care, inadequate training and supplies, discrimination, and tainted food. But, noted Dr. Small, a large proportion survived, as did Thomas Woolford.
“We must pass our history down or it will be interpreted for us,” the speaker concluded. The colored troops fought valiantly for their freedom with a proud history of service. “Their history must be brought home,” she said.
Long-time East New Market resident and former town commissioner Marva Sampson praised Dr. Small and said in her usual quietly firm way, “This is something that we can all learn more about. Thank you for the books you’ve written and thanks above all to the church for today.”
Heritage committee member Herschel Johnson concluded, “When Dr. Small spoke of Dorchester County colored troops she brought the message of the day alive – she brought our history home.”