By Askia Muhammad, Senior Correspondent
Special to the NNPA from the Final Call –
WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – The site of a Maryland plantation which is renowned by local historians for its connection to Black history and to the Civil War has lost its historical designation and is on its way to becoming an 85-store outlet mall, after an early January vote by the Prince George’s County Historic Preservation Commission.
It’s “another tragic event in the story of Salubria,” Bonnie Bick, a local resident and organizer of the Reinvest in the Heart of Oxon Hill (Maryland) campaign told The Final Call. “At the same time that we were reviewing archeological information that said Salubria was eligible for the National Register of Historic Places; the vote was taken by the Historic Preservation Commission to take away, not to nominate it for the national register, but to take away its entire historic designation.”
Salubria is the name of a Maryland plantation, where in 1834, a 14-year-old slave girl—possibly influenced by Nat Turner’s slave rebellion in South Hampton, Va., in 1831—poisoned her master’s children and was later sentenced to death. She is listed in the Maryland Archive as the first Maryland woman who was reported to have resisted slavery. She confessed to having two years earlier poisoned an infant child of her slave master. She may be the youngest woman ever to be executed in the United States.
Despite the murders of his children, the plantation owner, horticulturalist Dr. John Bayne became a Union officer in the Civil War, helped convince the state of Maryland to compensate slave owners to free their slaves, and worked to provide public education to freedmen. “John Wilkes Booth might have rode past Salubria, and went on down to where there was a sympathizer,” for his assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865, Ms. Bick pointed out. “Southern Prince George’s County was extremely (sympathetic to the Confederacy),” she said.
The Jan. 12 vote by the P.G. County planning board means all the archeological artifacts at Salubria will be taken out of the ground in order to “prepare it for economic development opportunity that is very poorly located,” said Ms. Bick.
In its findings, county Park and Planning staff concluded that protection of the 2.7 acres should be removed because the site has few remaining physical structures that can be restored or preserved, and the best way for the site to be preserved is through archaeological removal.
The Peterson Co., the developer of the glitzy, nearby National Harbor in Prince George’s County, has now received permission to remove all the archeology from the ground at Salubria, and has had the site’s historic designation removed.
William Shipp, a lawyer representing the Peterson Co., said that had the original structures on the property not been destroyed, the site proposal would have been “a different design than what we have today.” Black residents in the area are angry.
“I’m an African-American woman, and I’m sick of my history being obliterated. Nothing that matters to African Americans has been preserved,” Joyce Hawkins, a 69-year-old Tantallon, Md. resident told Gazette.net last summer when residents first organized to oppose commercial development of the property.
At that time The Washington Business Journal referred to the site in a headline as “Hallowed African American Ground.” But after the vote, Commissioner Robert H. Schnabel said it was “unfortunate” that the structures on the land had not been maintained properly. In 2003, a historic permit was approved that allowed for the demolition of remaining structures on the property. “What was done was inadequate, and it’s completely gone now,” Mr. Schnabel said, according to Gazette.net.
“What really gets me is that Milt Peterson—the developer—he purchased National Harbor property for $10.3 million, and he’s already gotten $500 million subsidy for his entrances and exits from the taxpayer,” Ms. Bick said. “So, it just seems so wrong for them” to take away the Black history, and subsidize it with taxpayer money. “As many as possible of the costs of this development are being externalized to the taxpayers,” she said.
Even the road leading to the projected outlet mall is being widened to four lanes by the county. The developer is proposing to put statues of select individuals in poses telling the story of Salubria, commemorative plaques, an interactive video, and floral and plant arrangements representing Dr. Bayne’s work as a horticulturalist at the site to designate its historical importance.
“It would have a tremendously negative impact on a Black neighborhood,” Ms. Bick argued. “The story has national significance and should be interpreted on the site,” and not removed for study.
A 140 page Phase II Archeological Evaluation prepared in Oct. 2011 by the firm Thunderbird Archeology for the P.G. County Historic Preservation Commission agreed with the preservationists. “It is our opinion that the historic component of (the) site is eligible for listing,” under three of the five criteria of the National Register of Historic Places, the report stated. Any one of these three could be adequate for the site’s qualification for national listing, and its preservation, its supporters insist.
“The location and boundaries of the site (are) considered to have significant research potential … Few National period farms or plantations have been studied at the Phase III level in Prince George’s County, Maryland and the lives of enslaved African Americans in the mid-19th century remains a neglected area of archeological inquiry throughout the region. Expansive and comprehensive data recovery at (the) site would create a valuable record of this significant site,” the report concludes.
“It is so wrong to have the county executive (Rushern Baker) supporting this,” said Ms. Bick. “It’s being promoted as a place for the community to shop, but there are alternatives where it wouldn’t be destroying a residential community that Peterson owns, but he’s not investing there” because he is continuing to buy property at alternative sites at “fire sale prices because of the public safety problems there. It’s very unjust.”
Prince Georges County, Md., is a majority Black county, which ranks as the most educated and affluent Black county in America. The county executive is Black and the majority of the county council is also Black.
The bottom line, Ms. Bick maintains is the negative impact the outlet mall development will have on the community, after the important historic site is destroyed. “Is this going to widen the gap between the economic barriers in the Washington region?” She insists the outlet mall will widen, not narrow the economic barriers.