Education

Students Honor Lives of Free, Enslaved Blacks Buried in Georgetown

Summer Program Concludes as Local Youth Learn a Vital Lesson in History

The Mt. Zion Female Union Band Society Historic Memorial Park, Inc. and Eagle Eye Tutoring, Inc. jointly celebrated the successful completion of a four-week summer study program, “The Project,” that provided unique opportunities for 30 middle school, high school and college students to conduct original historical research to uncover and memorialize some of the hidden history of Georgetown’s African Americans.

The resultant database of vital statistics, biographies, interviews, photos, audio and video were donated to the Mt. Zion – Female Union Band Historic Memorial Park during the final class held at the Cemetery (2501 Mill Road Northwest on July 30.

Nana Malaya Rucker led a Libation Ceremony on behalf of the Mt. Zion – Female Union Band Society Historic Memorial Park after which students told the stories they uncovered while demonstrating that still today Black lives matter.

A vibrant community in historic 18th-, 19th- and 20th-century Georgetown, African Americans led varied lives as physicians, real estate tycoons, business proprietors, artisans, chefs, draymen, coachmen, and general laborers. One, Jesuit priest Patrick Francis Healy, was the 29th president of Georgetown University. They raised families, played, laughed, grieved, and loved before, during and after the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and World Wars I and II. Their stories have largely been ignored, forgotten and covered up.

In June 2020, the Initial Class of the Project met at the Mt. Zion – Female Union Band Cemetery, a site of memory associated with the UNESCO Slave Route Project and listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.  Located in a secluded, forgotten corner in the Herring Hill section of Georgetown, the cemetery is the final resting place of the thousands of African Americans who were buried there between 1809 to 1950 and who are the focus of the Project.  Using just the names and dates extracted from crumbling, cracked, and broken tombstones or surviving burial records, students were challenged to reconstruct the lives of at least five individuals.

During Zoom sessions led by avocational genealogists and historians Garrett Lowe of Eagle Eye Tutoring, Inc. and Tom Duckenfield of TDB Communications, Inc., students learned how to use and evaluate primary documents (e.g., birth, marriage, and death records; will and probate records; “free negro” registrations; emancipation compensation petitions; and Freedmen’s Bureau records); documents digitized in online digital genealogy platforms such as www.ancestry.com; and original documents archived in state, local and federal repositories. Students also reviewed several secondary sources, including contemporary newspapers, city directories, and scholarly books, journals and articles.

For more information about Mt. Zion /Female Union Band Historic Memorial Park, visit https://www.BlackGeorgetown.com or contact Lisa Fager, executive director at LFager@MtZion-FUBS.org. (202) 253-0435.

For more about Eagle Eye Tutoring, visit https://www.eagleeyetutoring.com or Adelaide S. Barrett, Adelaide@eagleeyetutoring.com, (202) 302-1252.

The Mount Zion/Female Union Band Historic Memorial Park, Inc. (Foundation), incorporated in 2005 in the District, jointly manages the preservation and commemoration of the Mt. Zion and Female Union Band Society Cemeteries. Historically called the Old Methodist Burying Ground, the cemetery originated as a churchyard burial ground and subsequently evolved in terms of changing ownership and frequency of use. It was established by the Montgomery Street Methodist Church in 1808, which gathered at the Montgomery Street Meeting House, formerly located on Twenty-Eighth Street between M and Olive Streets, Northwest, formerly Montgomery Street between Bridge and Olive Streets, approximately one-half mile southwest of the cemetery. For more, visit www.BlackGeorgetown.com.

Tom Duckenfield, CEO of TDB Communications, Inc., was born in 1964 at historic Freedmen’s Hospital, established a century earlier in the District by the Medical Division of the Freedmen’s Bureau to provide care to former enslaved persons freed following the Civil War. His maternal and paternal roots are firmly entrenched in the Commonwealth of Virginia, including Westmoreland County, Richmond County, Northumberland County, Caroline County, Hanover County, Greensville County and Richmond City. Through his mother, Evelyn Newman Duckenfield, he is both a double-descendant of the Thompson and Newman families of Westmoreland County, manumitted in 1791 by Councillor Robert Carter III’s Deed of Gift, as well as a descendant of James McCoy, a Westmoreland County free Black patriot of the American Revolutionary War. Through his late father, Thomas A. Duckenfield, Sr., he is a descendant of free Black indentured servant Penelope Pugh (b. 1748, Bertie, NC) and Sir Nathaniel Duckenfield, Jr. (b. 1746, Cheshire, England), a British Loyalist during the American Revolutionary War and 5th Baron of Dukinfield, England.

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