When I was a child my family toured many historically-preserved homes/museums. I remember that, when we visited Mount Vernon, I embarrassed my mother by asking where all the bathrooms were. Not because I needed one at the time, mind you, but because it concerned me that George Washington and his family didn’t have anywhere to relieve themselves.
Did that mean people in those days didn’t go to the bathroom? No. But how they did that was, to me, invisible. I didn’t know about outhouses. Or indoor plumbing. I got a lesson pretty quickly as a result of that question.
This moment has been on my mind recently as I ponder the concept of saving land and buildings in Howard County that have historic import.
Warning: I’m going to make a big leap here. Fasten your seatbelt.
As an example, looking at the Lawyers Hill community, I wonder how many of those homes have ever been owned by Black families. Any? Ever? Certainly not at the time when they were built. I’m guessing one could wander through much of the history of that area without seeing non-white Americans as equal members of society.
Does that mean there weren’t any non-whites? No. But they might as well be invisible.
So, here is where this leaves me. Why would Black residents of Howard County have any interest whatsoever in preserving a history that excluded if not downright oppressed them? Why would they? I’m trying to wrap my brain around this. Wouldn’t an opportunity to live in a beautiful area in a new development that welcomes everyone be a more logical choice to support?
Is it hubris for White residents of Howard County to expect everyone to share a passion for preserving what is largely a whites-only history?
This is not to say that Lawyers Hill and its famed Assembly rooms don’t have historic value. But I do wonder whose history we are valuing here. I have heard some people say that once the land is built on we can never get it back. But isn’t there a good deal of American history that was cruel and violent and inhumane and why wouldn’t the descendants of those who suffered want to see it all plowed under?
When decisions are made about buildings and land and history in Howard County, are we making sure everyone is visible?