Written By: Hannah Yale
The Commemorative to the Enslaved Peoples of Southern Maryland is complete and the dedication ceremony is set to be held at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 21. The Commemorative is an immersive art installation designed to honor the resilience, perseverance, and creativity of the enslaved individuals that lived in St. Mary’s City between 1750 and 1815.
The field on which the Commemorative to the Enslaved Peoples of Maryland now stands was once home to three or four enslaved households. In 2016, while the college was preparing to construct the new Jamie L. Roberts Stadium, an archaeological dig by Professor of Anthropology Julia King and her students uncovered artifacts indicating the presence of slave quarters. Between 1750 and 1815 the land belonged to John Hicks and later John Mackall, two planters whose wealth we now know was built upon the labor of enslaved people. After the archaeological discovery, President Tuajuanda Jordan led several campus and community forums to determine the best way to honor the historical site. It was decided that the athletic stadium would be moved further back so that the historical field would remain entirely intact, and in 2018 President Jordan created a committee to seek proposals for a commemorative design.
The Commemorative features erasure poetry, also known as blackout poetry, on a structure inspired by the “ghost frame” architecture at Historic St. Mary’s City. It was designed by Shane Allbritton and Norman Lee and features the poetry of Quenton Baker, whose work focuses on how Black interiority functions under the constraints of an anti-Black society and the afterlife of American slavery. The erasure poetry that covers Commemorative structure was adapted from historical documents related to the Mackall-Broome plantation, one of three known plantations which were located on the land around St. Mary’s City. Slave property advertisements, slave depositions of the Mackall-Broome family, runaway slave advertisements and relevant newspaper articles from the time period were transformed into powerful poems that allow visitors to honor the stories of enslaved peoples and to reflect on how slavery still affects individuals, communities, and the nation.
During the day, the sky and landscape around the Commemorative can be seen through the reflection of the mirror-polished stainless steel on which the poetry is engraved. At night, the Commemorative is lit up from the inside, and the poetry is projected onto the ground surrounding the structure, creating an eternal illuminated vigil to the enslaved people who spent their lives in St. Mary’s County not only working, but enduring, loving and resisting.
The Commemorative to the Enslaved Peoples of Southern Maryland was made a reality because of funding and hard work from the State of Maryland, St. Mary’s College of Maryland, Maryland State Arts Council, Maryland Heritage Areas Authority, Southern Maryland Heritage Area Consortium and Elizabeth and Jeff Byrd.