George Mason University visits local historic hub, push to create community archive

SALISBURY, Md. – “This small area is powerful in tradition and powerful in history,” George Mason University Doctoral student Ayondela McDole said.

That history is now in the hands of students and faculty of George Mason University in Virginia, who are spending a week cleaning and archiving artifacts at the Charles H. Chipman Cultural Center in Salisbury.

I’m told the goal is to make connections with the past that will allow truth to be told today, promoting healing and social transformation.

“We’re coming in and preserving these materials and providing Chipman with the resources to be able to sustain their materials and tell their own stories,” George Mason University Professor Dr. Charles Chavis said.

“They were all boxed up in a closet and we didn’t know what we had. They’re digitizing a lot of them and doing like a card catalog to know what we have so that we can eventually put them on display,” Chipman Foundation President Shanie Shields said.

The restoration project will continue over the next several months and materials collected will remain at the center with the hope of creating a community archive.

Director of African American Studies at George Mason University, Dr. Charles Chavis,  says the Chipman Center which was built by former slaves in the early 1800s and was a cultural hub for the African American community in the 1930s. Today, it’s the only building that remains of the Georgetown black business district.

“The black community of Georgetown was subsequently and systemically destroyed. So we’re here with students to get them to learn about the ways in which we can learn from the more tragic episodes in our history,” Dr. Chavis said.

Books, magazines, and newspapers are amongst many of the discoveries. We’re told these findings are bringing up memories of the past.

“They remember when so and so’s baby was born here. They remember when that place burned down there just from picking up items left behind. So it’s incredibly powerful and I don’t know if you can get that from an urban city,” McDole said.

Students will end the week doing first-hand interviews with descendants of the Georgetown community, some of who were eyewitnesses to the lynching of Matthew Williams back in 1931. “It’s important to understand that this was an attack on black success and black political and economic power,” Dr. Chavis said.

“I’m a believer in if you don’t know your past you won’t know your future. So you need to know what people have gone through for you to be able to do what you’re doing today,” Shields said.

Students will also interview members of the white community whose family members either participated in the lynching or were eyewitnesses.

Dr. Chavis and his students are also working with local community partners and leaders including Mayor Jake Day and the Wicomico Truth and Reconciliation Initiative.

Dr. Chavis of George Mason University also wrote a book called The Silent Shore: The Lynching of Matthew Williams and the Politics of Racism in the Free State, based on research surrounding the lynching of Matthew Williams.

Categories: Education, Local News, Maryland