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Harford pays tribute as Hosanna School plans to celebrate 150th anniversary

As the Hosanna School Museum in Darlington prepares to celebrate its 150th anniversary in April, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman is using Black History Month as a way to pay tribute to the onetime Freedmen's Bureau schoolhouse.

Glassman and his staff have prepared a minute-and-a-half video about the history of the school.

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The community will celebrate Hosanna School's anniversary with a banquet on Friday, April 7, at 7 p.m. at APG Federal Credit Union Arena at Harford Community College.

In Harford County's convulsed history of race relations, which continues to the present day, one unalterable fact stands out in a place that has also long honored its sons and daughters for their military service. The county's only native born recipient of the United States' highest military honor is an African-American man, Sgt. Alfred B. Hilton.

Dr. Freeman Hrabowski III, president of UMBC and one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People in the World, will give the keynote address.

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Black History Month tribute

"The history goes back quite a long way with the school itself," Cindy Mumby, a spokesperson for Harford County government, said.

In 1983, as an intern in the Maryland General Assembly, Glassman worked closely with Christine Tolbert, a board member of the Hosanna School, on the first state bond bill to help refurbish the school, which is located in the historic African-American community of Berkley.

A history and political science major, Glassman considers the Darlington area, where he lives, "a pocket of tolerance," Mumby said, adding that it was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

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"It's what he called a hidden gem," she said, "and he wanted to highlight it."

Tolbert was there when Glassman filmed the tribute, and he reminded her of something she said in her bond bill testimony more than 30 years ago: "If you don't preserve people's history, it ceases to exist."

"That speaks to why it was important to highlight this history there," Mumby said.

On July 3, the Havre de Grace Colored School Foundation of the Community Projects of HDG, Inc. held an open house at the former Havre de Grace Colored School. On display was an array of photos of students dating back to the 1930s through the 1950s. Many of the visitors saw pictures of friends and relatives that had never been seen before. The open house offered the community a glimpse of the former Colored Schoolhouse and into lives of the former students that attended the school.

In the video, Glassman speaks of the remarkable spirit of community that kept the school going, even when the building wasn't in good condition.

"The passion of the community and their desire for education is what kept the school going even when it was in dire need of repair," Mumby said.

To see the video, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3DadvoxxUI.

This is the second such video tribute Glassman has done, Mumby said. Last year for Black History Month he honored the late Dr. Percy Williams, a retired Harford County educator, who was a significant force in desegregation of Harford County Public Schools.

"It's important to highlight the very important history right in our back yard and Black History Month was the perfect opportunity," Mumby said.

Hosanna anniversary

The 150th anniversary banquet will feature a sit-down dinner, live musical entertainment and a book signing of "Holding Fast to Dreams: Empowering Youth From the Civil Rights Crusade to STEM Achievement" by Hrabowski. Doors open at 6 p.m., and the celebration is from 7 to 11 p.m.

"We are honored to have Dr. Freeman Hrabowski as the keynote speaker at Hosanna School Museum's 150th anniversary celebration," Iris Leigh Barnes, Hosanna's executive director, said.

Advocates of turning the former home of the Havre de Grace Colored School into a hub for community activity took their first steps in the process Saturday when they formed an eight-member working group to determine the best way to acquire the historic property and the potential uses for it.

"His speaking is significant because in the same way the first teachers of Hosanna School were committed to providing education and changing lives in untold ways for African Americans – committed sometimes to the point of putting their lives on the line," Barnes continued.

"Dr. Hrabowski is equally committed to providing educational opportunities for today's black youth, particularly males, through STEM programs," she said. "The transformative power of education was understood by our teachers at Hosanna and continues today under leaders such as Dr. Hrabowski."

Tickets to the banquet cost $60 per person and may be ordered by visiting hosannaschoolmuseum.org. For more information, call 410-457-4161.

Proceeds from the banquet will be used to continue to preserve the Hosanna School Museum and support interpretive and educational programming. The banquet's sponsors include Harford County government.

Hosanna School, also known as the Berkley School, was built on land owned by James Paca, the son of Cupid Paca, a free African-American who bought 50 acres.

The Freedmen's Bureau funded the construction of the two-story frame building, which was used as a school, community meeting place and church. Operation of the school was assumed by the Harford County School Commissioners in 1879. Hosanna remained active as a schoolhouse for African-American children until 1945.

Three years later, Hosanna Community House Inc. was formed. The school building was used as a community meeting place until the late 1950s when Hurricane Hazel sheared off the top floor.

One of two Harford County men who took part in the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights march that would change the course of American history, Hunter walked alongside President Barack Obama and his family in the February commemoration.

With limited funds, the board preserved what was left of the building by placing a roof on the remaining structure. After these repairs, the building was once again a community center, although one story, used primarily by the Boy Scouts.

Significant restoration of the building began in 1983, and the second floor was added in 2005, returning it to its original structure. Today, it is a living schoolhouse museum, attracting visitors from all over the country. The building is also used for community meetings and events.

To preserve additional African-American history in Harford County, in 2016 Hosanna School Museum acquired McComas Institute, an adjacent cemetery and Mount Zion United Methodist Church in Joppa.

McComas Institute, built in 1867 and on the National Register of Historic Places, was one of the first three Freedmen's Bureau schoolhouses in Harford County. Mount Zion United Methodist Church, built in 1865, is adjacent to the McComas Institute. The church's leadership and congregation were instrumental in the founding and management of McComas Institute.

Community members and businesses interested in helping to preserve history and educate generations to come about the contributions by African Americans in Harford County are encouraged to make a donation through the website at hosannaschoolmuseum.org or by sending a check (made payable to Hosanna School Museum) to P.O. Box 305, Darlington, Md. 21034.

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