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Remembering Our Past: St. Mary’s Comes to Terms With a Complex History

At an all-campus meeting on April 10, St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) President Tuajuanda Jordan formally announced that an archaeological investigation had uncovered evidence of enslaved people’s quarters on the proposed site for the Jamie L. Roberts Athletic Stadium. In response to these findings, the administration of SMCM has proposed moving the construction of the athletic stadium eastward so that it no longer resides on top of the areas of “high archaeological significance.”

SMCM’s response has opened up discussion of how the community treats its history. The college is referred to as a “living monument.” Situated in close proximity to Historic St. Mary’s City, the history on and beneath the campus is vast. These most recent discoveries, illuminate some of the darkest historical times in the United States, namely slavery.

The uncovering of artifacts has been regarded as an opportunity to “figure out how to honor that past and move forward in the process” by Associate Professor of Art History, Joe Lucchesi. Professor Lucchesi was a faculty representative to the Campus Master Planning Task Force, a group which helped plan the construction of the 76 million dollar academic and athletic buildings.

Professor Lucchesi sees this as an opportunity for the school to explore and be mindful of the history of slavery at SMCM.

The Jamie L. Roberts Stadium is the result of the fundraising campaign which culminated on June 1, 2016. On that day, SMCM announced that it had “completed the College’s building campaign, raising $2.5 million in private gifts. Reaching the fundraising goal now allows the College to utilize approximately $76 million in State of Maryland funding for a new academic building with an auditorium and a new athletic stadium complex.”

The majority of the fund, $60 million, will be directed towards the construction of a new academic building. The $8 million left is to be allotted towards a new stadium, athletic field, and field house. The stadium is going to be named after Jamie L. Roberts, a St. Mary’s alumnus who was tragically killed while biking across the United States to raise money for the Ulman Cancer Fund to support young adults impacted by cancer. Her family generously donated $970,000 in her honor to the fund in order to complete the $2.5 million fundraising requirement to initiate the process.

The new athletic buildings will make room for an academic structure on the site of the current stadium. It will be a “52,289-square-foot academic building to house the College’s music department, a 700-seat auditorium, education studies department, which includes the Master of Arts in Teaching program, and a multi-discipline learning commons area” according to the SMCM Newsroom. The project was expected to begin building in 2019.

The proposed location for the Jamie L. Robert’s stadium is across Mattapany road, opposite of the “Lot T” parking lot (also known as Guam). Per standard procedure, the college completed an archaeological survey of the grounds. Professor of Anthropology Julie King lead the study of the area with assistance from Historic St. Mary’s. She explained via a video presentation on SMCM’s website, as well as during the April 10 meeting, that using an archaeological investigation and oral histories from the college’s archive, she was able to identify areas of “high archaeological significance.”

Based on previous studies, and documentation, the community was already aware of slave quarters adjacent to where Lot Z is currently situated. King was also keenly aware of a farmhouse, south of the proposed location for the Jamie L. Roberts Stadium. This farmhouse belonged to the Mackall Brome-estate [“Brome also spelled as “Broome” on the website].

King and her class did “shovel tests” as well as remote sensing to screen for artifacts. She was able to locate two large clusters of artifacts (nails, bricks, and ceramics) “both which contain evidence for quarters” from the 18th century. They processed this information and added it to a custom Global Information System (GIS) database. Utilizing these findings, alongside documentation from court records, King was able to reasonably confirm the existence of the two-quarters adjacent to the Mackall Brome farmhouse.

Some of the recovered artifacts included ceramics which King was able to date, and therefore infer that the site was abandoned around 1815.

An offer from Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane  of the British Forces in 1814 during the war of 1812, made it official policy that Slaves joining the British Forces “would earn their freedom.” There is evidence that the enslaved people from the Mackall Brome farmhouse took Cochrane up on his offer.

For more information, please refer to the Remembering Our Past webpage.

In response to Professor King’s findings, according to the Remembering our Past webpage, SMCM will in an attempt to “minimize the the archaeological disturbance” move the construction eastward, within the same plot of land. Historically, St. Mary’s has been wary of archaeological sites in an attempt to avoid artifact destruction when constructing new structures.

The Remembering Our Past web-page also functions as a forum for community members to give their feedback on the situation. Dr. Koret Mensah, the Associate Vice Principal of Diversity and Inclusion, told those in attendance at the campus meeting on April 10 that community members should tap into their emotions as the conversation continues. Mensah expressed interest in a community dialogue on these matters.

Micaiah Wheeler, a class of 2017 biology major, attended the Student Government Association (SGA) student speak-out to voice his concerns about the construction’s erasure of slavery. In an interview with The Point News, Wheeler explained that he has learned about the findings during the “Remembering Our Past” campus meeting.

Wheeler said “My first, initial response was one of shock. I wasn’t really sure on how to internalize it. The ancestors of my peers, possibly even mine lived there. My view has changed quite a bit, it’s a touchy situation.” Wheeler said that he has been in conversation with his peers about the issue, and subsequently commends President Jordan’s response, “I’m glad that Dr. Jordan and the committee are taking extra steps to make sure that the voice of students is heard.”

As for the design of the stadium, Wheeler suggested that it pays tribute to the history of the land it is being built on, “The stadium should provide an opportunity to teach anyone that uses it, anyone that enters into the land on which it sits to remember the hardships of African Americans in the first colony in the state of Maryland. Its design should be made with the history and honor of these people in mind. From the entrance and all throughout the facilities, there should be reminders.”

Mr. Wheeler’s responses can be read at length in the “Letters from the community.”

If you wish to publicly share your opinions on this matter, please email a letter to the community to Julian Erville.

Correction (4/27/2017):  An earlier version of this article said that “The proposed location for the Jamie L. Robert’s stadium is across Mattapany road, opposite of the “Lot Z” parking lot (also known as Guam).” This sentence should read, “The proposed location for the Jamie L. Robert’s stadium is across Mattapany road, opposite of the “Lot T” parking lot (also known as Guam)”

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