Stories of pain, of triumph, of treasured family members and of witnessing major historical events abounded Tuesday during a presentation on local African-American history at the Historical Society of Harford County in Bel Air.
Margaret Ferguson and Roxann Redd-Wallace, co-chairs of Campaign 42’s ongoing African-American History of Harford County Project, put on the presentation. It was part of the Historical’s Society’s monthly series of brown bag lunches, when people can spend part of an afternoon learning about different aspects of Harford County history.
About 70 people attended Tuesday’s presentation, which Historical Society director Maryanna Skowronski called “one of, if not the largest attendance” for a brown bag lunch.
February is Black History Month throughout the United States.
Tuesday’s presentation included stories about prominent African-American residents of Harford County, such as Sgt. Alfred B. Hilton, a soldier in the Union Army’s U.S. Colored Troops who was mortally wounded during battle in Virginia in 1864. Hilton, his regiment’s flag bearer, earned the nation’s highest military honor, the Medal of Honor, for his actions during the Battle of Chaffin's Farm and New Market Heights.
Hilton grew up on a farm in the Gravel Hill community near Havre de Grace. A county park near where he grew up has been named in his honor, a Civil War Discovery Trail marker was placed in the park in 2014, and the Route 22 overpass crossing I-95 in Aberdeen was dedicated in his honor last year.
Joyce Hilton Bransford Byrd, Hilton’s great niece times four, attended Tuesday’s event. Byrd said she grew up in the Level area west of Havre de Grace, and she lives in the community of Green Spring, a short distance from the Level Volunteer Fire Company’s main firehouse on Level Village Road.
The presentation was not just about war heroes such as Hilton, though.
Ferguson and Redd-Wallace and their fellow volunteers with Campaign 42 have spent the past two years poring through documents — many of which are found at the Historical Society — and conducting interviews to learn more about the history of Harford’s African-American community. Their findings are published each week in a pamphlet available electronically and in print. Their 87th edition came out last Friday, Feb. 9.
Two people who have been featured in Campaign 42 pamphlets, Bertha Copeland of Perryman and Robert “Bob” Greene, of Havre de Grace, were guest speakers.
Greene was a personnel officer for the Harford County government in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the first African-American to hold a cabinet level position in the county. He also had an insurance brokerage and, later, a temporary services firm.
The Edgewood High School graduate was part of an early group of African-American students who attended EHS in the mid-1960s when Harford County Public Schools began integrating, more than a decade after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision striking down racial segregation in schools.
Greene, who grew up in the historically black Cooptown community north of Bel Air, said he attended the segregated Central Consolidated School in Hickory through his sophomore year of high school. At Edgewood, he was a member of the varsity basketball team.
He also talked about how his grandfather, William L. Greene, was a positive role model for him.
“I want to credit my grandfather and my grandmother for the way I turned out,” he said. “I think I turned out all right.”
Copeland, who has been named a Harford County Living Treasure, spent 35 years working as a licensed practical nurse at the Perry Point VA Medical Center in Perryville. She is also known for her community work, including backing her famed sweet potato pies for people during the holidays, according to Redd-Wallace.
Copeland recalled participating in the 1963 March on Washington and hearing civil rights leader Martin Luther King deliver his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in the nation’s capital.
“It was thousands and thousands of people, young, old, all ethnic groups, and we were singing ‘We Shall Overcome,’” Copeland said, recalling walking with fellow marchers along Pennsylvania Avenue.
The Historical Society will host another Black History Month event Saturday, an exploration of the saga of Margaret Morgan, a freed slave born in Harford County who moved with her family to Pennsylvania in the 1830s.
Morgan and her children were later kidnapped and brought back to Maryland. The subsequent legal issues made up the landmark 1842 Supreme Court case, Prigg v. Pennsylvania regarding the legality of pursuing escaped or freed slaves who moved to free states.
The event will be from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Historical Society, 143 N. Main St., Bel Air. Admission is $10; call 410-838-7691 or visit www.harfordhistory.org to make reservations.