National

Black Towns, Established By Freed Slaves, are Dying out

An 1866 poster attacking the Freedmen's Bureau.
An 1866 poster attacking the Freedmen’s Bureau.

Deneen L. Brown, THE WASHINGTON POST

 

 

SUGARLAND, Md. (THE WASHINGTON POST)—The old people used to say that Sugarland, Maryland, one of the hundreds of all-black towns and communities established by freed slaves after the Civil War, got its name because its founders believed that “the women here were as sweet as sugar.”

Gwendora Reese, 73, and her cousins Nettie Johnson La’Master, 74, and Suzanne Johnson, 65 — who are direct descendants of the town’s founders — are telling the story of Sugarland. Reese and La’Master grew up here, in wood-frame houses built by their fathers, direct descendants of freed slaves who founded this community about an hour’s drive north of Washington.

They remember their mothers canning peaches and their siblings skipping along dirt roads, playing tag among fruit orchards. They remember sitting on the hard benches in the church built by former slaves. And visiting elders who spoke with pride about a community founded and run by blacks. Sugarland had its own general store and postmaster.

 

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