Saturday, December 11, 2021

Honoring History


House for sale:

Photo from Howard County Times, courtesy of Richard Watson

This 1789 estate, located in Highland, is on offer for 5.5 million. It’s featured in this recent article:

Hot property: 1789 Hickory Ridge estate, which includes a 9-stall stable and equestrian center, is for sale - - Mary Carole McCauley, Howard County Times

It wasn’t the article itself that caught my eye, but this tweet in response to it:

This is @HowardCountyMD #agriculture history.  Will the purchaser honor the #history?  @hchsmd @FarmBureauMD @HoCoGov @HoCoGovExec

Agriculture history? Hot property? Equestrian paradise?

I don’t see it.

It’s a prison. A private jail. A forced labor camp. Here is where generations of human beings were held against their will. It doesn’t matter how carefully it is preserved or how beautifully it’s decorated. It’s a living monument that our country was founded on the worst kind of injustice. See how pretty it is…the house of horrors.

Journalist McCauley tells it in a way that wouldn’t upset the bridge club:

 Like many grand Maryland estates, the history of Hickory Ridge is complicated. The plantation was likely built and maintained by the labor of the enslaved people that, according to state records, were owned by the Ridgley family in the 18th and 19th centuries.


Complicated is whether or not you’re entirely certain you’ve broken up with your ex for good. It’s how you feel about that delicious food that you know you shouldn’t eat. 

This isn’t complicated. It’s slavery.

“Will the owner preserve its history?” What history? Whose history?

Saying “it’s complicated” is a lie we tell ourselves that we hope will make our struggle to come to grips with the truth and its implications seem forgivable.

Ask any Black person what this house and others like it represent. It’s not complicated.

Take a look at this photo of the central hallway.

                                                                  Photo credit: see above

Who - - or, rather what - - is on the bench?

Oh, look! It’s a cute stuffed plush version* of a Black cast iron Lawn Jockey. From the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris University, under the heading “Anti-Black Imagery”, a description:

The lawn jockey is a decorative yard ornament that caricatures black people and promotes the idea of their servitude…The black lawn jockeys often have exaggerated features, such as bulging eyes, large red lips, a flat nose and curly hair. The flesh of the figure is usually a glossy black color.

I can’t begin to understand the thought process behind using this object in the staging of this house. If the answer is ignorance then we must do a better job of teaching history.

So…Will the purchaser honor the history? That depends. Will it be the true, unadulterated history that some people are trying to suppress in our nation’s schools? That might be a worthy endeavor. 

Although I wouldn’t blame people whose ancestors were enslaved if they saw no reason to preserve it at all. If the thought of that seems sacrilegious to you, try this. Look at the photo of the house and say these words: 

This is where my grandfather was in chains…grandmother was raped…uncle was tortured…my aunt was sold.

Will the purchaser honor the history? I wonder.

*A reader has reached out to suggest this is a common decorative accent piece in equestrian circles and that it is meant to evoke an association with fox hunting. Here’s a similar item from EBay:

Here’s my question: if a Black family were looking at this house, what would this piece mean to them?

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