Md. 'kinship Communities' Embrace Past, Work To Improv Present (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

Transcripts

How A Maryland Community Draws From History As Slave Enclave

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:09
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir, and this week, in honor of Valentine's Day, we're talking about chemistry. Earlier in the show, we went behind the bar with D.C.'s very own mixtress, and learned about cocktail chemistry. And we got up close and personal with the folks behind Date Lab, the Washington Post's experiment in blind dating. But to kick off this part of the show, we're gonna tip our hats not so much to the holiday we're celebrating this week, but to the event we're celebrating all of February, African American History Month.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:39
Across Montgomery County, Md., you'll find about 40 communities that played a very particular role in the region's, and the nation's, African American history. They were all settled by freed slaves in the 19th century, and include places like Lyttonsville, Lincoln Park, Sugarland, Jerusalem, Tobytown, Stewartown, Ken-Gar, Sandy Spring, and Scotland. They're often referred to as "kinship communities."

MR. JOHN MULLER

00:01:01
I don't know the formal history of the origins of the name kinship...

SHEIR

00:01:05
Author and journalist John Muller hails from the Sandy Spring area.

MULLER

00:01:09
...but I'll just say from my experiences growing up, for example, there was the Briscoe family. The Briscoe family grew up right around Zion and Brookeville Road. They had a very large extended family. And like, the fellow I went to school with, he would call people his brothers or cousins that didn't necessarily have like the same last name. I don't think they were of blood relation, but they grew up in the same area. Their parents might have grown up with each other, their grandparents grew up with each other. And so you have these bonds, these relationships, that are passed down from generation to generation.

SHEIR

00:01:41
And indeed, these generations go back quite a ways. As Muller drives me around his old stomping grounds, we stop at a cemetery right next to Mt. Zion United Methodist Church, which many people say was the first church in the county to be purchased by blacks.

SHEIR

00:01:55
Can we see dates on any of these headstones?

MULLER

00:01:57
See, look, now this person, 103 year old, 1841 to 1945.

SHEIR

00:02:02
Wow. Some long lives here.

SHEIR

00:02:05
Sandy Spring is a relatively rural community. While it was settled by Quakers in the 1700s, in the 1800s it became this enclave for emancipated slaves.

MULLER

00:02:13
They had kind of the ability they'll say to police themselves. It was very self-contained.

SHEIR

00:02:17
But since then, successors to these freed slaves have to these freed slaves have seen that self-contained security decline. A few years ago, Montgomery County told residents of Farm Road that, in short, their private road does not exist. The county says the road isn't on any official records, so the residents don't have any addresses, so, basically, they don't have a right to use that land. The residents' federal complaint against the county was dismissed in 2011, but a group called Save Sandy Spring continues to fight.

SHEIR

00:02:49
And several kinship communities away, in Scotland, Md...

MULLER

00:02:52
This is Rebecca Sheir.

MR. BERNARD SCOTT

00:02:54
Hi, Rebecca, I'm Bernard.

SHEIR

00:02:55
Nice to meet you, Bernard.

MULLER

00:02:56
Bernard Scott.

SHEIR

00:02:56
...people definitely know a thing or two about fighting. We're in the historic Scotland AME Zion Church on Seven Locks Road, where Pastor Adrian Nelson is introducing me to 63 year old Bernard Scott.

SCOTT

00:03:08
I am a resident of Scotland for 45 years. I no longer live in Scotland, but I have adopted Scotland as my home, and the Scotland residents as my family. And I hope they feel the same way, too.

SHEIR

00:03:21
Scott has become an amateur historian on the town of Scotland, which first came into the hands of an ex-slave in 1880. But by the 1960s, the place was pretty much a mess.

SCOTT

00:03:32
When I came in this area in 1968, this Seven Locks Road was a dirt road. I know this is radio, but this is basically what the housing in the area looked like. As you can see, these are basically shacks, with no plumbing, no inside bathrooms. And right up the road there, most of the well-to-do Potomac residents were already there. So this area here was being neglected.

SHEIR

00:04:06
That word, neglected, that may be an understatement. In 1964, Scotland was so run-down that the county nearly condemned it. Which is why, in 1965, black residents and some of their white neighbors formed a new kind of union...

MS. BETTY THOMPSON

00:04:21
"Save Our Scotland," S.O.S...

SHEIR

00:04:23
...to save this town they held so dear.

THOMPSON

00:04:26
Another minister was here at the time, and I can't remember saying it, but he told me I said, "I'll die for Scotland."

SHEIR

00:04:36
Well, all these years later, 77 year old Betty Thompson is alive and well in Scotland, and full of memories of how she and her fellow SOSers tackled the community's housing problems. First...

THOMPSON

00:04:48
We raised money...

SHEIR

00:04:50
...by combining the residents' land and selling all but 12 acres to the Montgomery County Park and Planning Commission. Then, after fighting to obtain zoning rights, they went through the Department of Housing and Urban Development...

THOMPSON

00:05:01
HUD.

SHEIR

00:05:01
...to create 100 brand new houses. 75 to rent...

THOMPSON

00:05:06
...and then 25 of us bought our own.

SHEIR

00:05:08
And by 1971, residents of Scotland were able to move into their own townhomes, all equipped with heating, electricity and water. They also finally got a Laundromat, a daycare center, a community center and public transportation. And Bernard Scott says it was all thanks to that age-old tradition of kinship.

SCOTT

00:05:27
In a very difficult time, it was a great group of people who were able to stick together, and keep their heads up, when everybody else was trying to separate them and knock their heads off.

SHEIR

00:05:40
Scott says although Scotland is no longer as thriving as it once was, he has high hopes for its future. Residents past and present continue to gather each August for Scotland Community Day. And the more than 100-year-old Scotland AME Zion Church is still a major hub for what Scott calls the Scotland family.

SCOTT

00:05:59
Family is an institution where love lives. And if there are 17 people living in one house, they're going to fuss, they're going to argue, they're going to step on each other's toes. But they're never going to stop loving each other. And that's the way Scotland is.

SHEIR

00:06:15
Back in Sandy Spring, John Muller says that's the way all kinship communities in Montgomery County have traditionally been, because of their residents' many shared experiences.

MULLER

00:06:24
You know, a shared experience would be surviving, thriving as a community against like all odds, or against the prevailing attitudes of the day. Everyone essentially works to support the whole community.

SHEIR

00:06:38
And in turn, in true kinship, the whole community works to support them.

SHEIR

00:06:59
We'll bring you more from Sandy Spring on our March 8th edition of the show, when we'll dig deeper into that land dispute that residents say has prevented them from using their property. So stay tuned.
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