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Slave experiences shared at Westminster church in honor of Black History Month

Richard Mack was born in 1844 to parents William and Harriet Mack, both slaves on a plantation in Charles County.

An interview with Richard Mack, who was a slave on that plantation until he was emancipated, that was recorded in Baltimore City sometime between 1936 and 1938 was read by Natasha Costley on Saturday afternoon before a crowd of churchgoers at Union Memorial Baptist Church in Westminster. It was one of a handful of interviews with former slaves read by church members in honor of Black History Month, an event the church plans to hold again next February.

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In the interview, Mack describes details of his life as a slave: what he ate, where he lived and the work he did. He also describes the injustices faced by black men and women who were bought and sold in Maryland. Although slaves in the Confederacy were freed during the Civil War by the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, slavery in Maryland, which remained in Union, wasn't abolished until 1864, according to the Maryland State Archives.

The event was organized by Manchester resident Diane Hurd, a member of the historically black church, who stumbled upon the narratives just over a year ago and wanted to share the stories with younger members of the community in particular.

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"I really hope that it will enlighten them in a way that it makes them want to find out more," Hurd said. "Maryland is rich with a lot of history and the fact that, as African-Americans, we can find history that is specific to our race, our culture — I just think it's great, and I hope it allows us to want to know more."

Costley, 29, a special education teacher at nearby Westminster High School, said she believes it's important to share these stories because students don't learn much about black history in school.

"I think because there aren't a lot of minority teachers here, the curriculum is just not there," said Costley, believes more about black history should be taught in Carroll's public schools.

Costley, who is black, said she feels that black history can sometimes get lost on younger generations. That is why her mother, Reather Miles, an instructional assistant at Westminster East Middle School, brought Costley's 15-year-old brother Aron Miles to the reading.

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"This is stuff he needs to know — where he came from — to continue to go forward," Costley said.

The Rev. Edwin Smith, who became pastor of the church in 2005, told church members they have a rich history, which is why they should be the ones to tell the stories of slaves.

"Slavery did not begin our history — slavery interrupted our history," he told church members.

That message resonated with Miles, who believes young African-Americans see the state of the nation today without making a connection to the past.

"It was an interruption, but we've come a long way," she said.

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