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A celebration of family and history at Cox-Burgess Estates

FamilyCultureHoward Community CollegeTelevision Industry

Some things go together hand-in-hand, like family and history. And when the two combine, the Cox family knows how to celebrate.

More than 50 family members and friends gathered at the Cox-Burgess Estates in Ellicott City under the blazing sun and triple-digit heat July 7 to honor two silver anniversaries.

In 1987, the Howard County Center of African American culture was founded. In the same year, another event occurred: Clifton Cox married Bertha Burgess.

Bertha Cox's family has lived on Burgess Estates since 1889, when her great-grandparents purchased the 140 acres for $750. The family cleared the land, started a farm and eventually passed the property on to Bertha's fathers and uncles. The original house still stands on the land.

The ownership of the land established the Burgesses as one of the earliest black families to own land in the county, and Bertha and her ancestors are considered one of the county's native black families.

The land has been whittled down over the years, as the Burgesses sold parcels off to developers and family members. Now, family members are scattered along the street, in the new homes on the land that was once part of the original property. Bertha, 51, and Clifton, 64, live on four acres at the center of the original estate.

"This entire side of the street, it was all my great-grandfather's land," Bertha said at Saturday's celebration, which included music, hayrides, tables and tables of food, and an appearance by former County Council member C. Vernon Gray. "We've been here a long time, and we go a long way back. ... This has been home to me for a long time."

Clifton and Bertha met at the WBAL-TV station in Baltimore, where they both worked as engineers. When the couple married, they saw no point in living anywhere but the Ellicott City estate, where Bertha still lived with her grandmother, in the original house.

On the plot of land where Bertha said her family "did everything — raised hogs, planted strawberries, grew corn," she and her husband built a new home.

The Center of African American Culture contacted Clifton Cox about three years ago, he said, interested in documenting the family's story through interviews and artifacts — things like photographs, and the original deed to the land. That exhibit, part of the picnic July 7, included the stories of some 50 families, said Wylene Burch, director and founder of the center.

The center, whose museum is housed off Vantage Point Road in Columbia, and whose archives are kept at Howard Community College, has a collection of over 21,000 objects from black Howard County families.

Burch said she started the center as a way to collect and preserve African-American culture in the county.

"When I first moved here, I noticed people weren't preserving the history of the founders of the county," said Burch, a native of New Orleans. "That's what we're doing now. We're preserving history here. ...We have so many nationalities and cultures here in Howard County, and this is (Columbia founder Jim) Rouse's dream, you know, that he believed everyone is equal."

With both the center and the Cox-Burgess marriage having endured 25 years, Clifton offered some advice for making any endeavor last.

"It takes dedication," he said. "If you marry (only) for love, it ain't going to make it. Marry someone because you love them, and are dedicated to them. If you're dedicated, it's taken to a different level."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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