Long-term sustainable programming and community engagement tied to the Commemorative to Enslaved Peoples of Southern Maryland gained more momentum this fall thanks to monetary support from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

Earlier this week, NEH announced more than $87 million in American Rescue Plan funding to nearly 300 cultural and educational institutions to help them recover from the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, retain and rehire workers, and reopen sites, facilities, and programs. 

St. Mary’s College of Maryland was awarded just over $144,000 to fund its project, “Extending the History and Voices of Enslaved Peoples of Southern Maryland.” The funds allow the College to create a one-year public humanities position, sustain existing humanities programming, and create a long-term plan for humanities activities and public outreach related to the Commemorative.

The Commemorative to Enslaved Peoples of Southern Maryland is an immersive art experience that honors the story of resilience, persistence, and creative problem-solving that defined the lives of the enslaved individuals that lived in St. Mary’s City between 1750 and 1815. Constructed on the College’s campus, the Commemorative provides visitors with the space to acknowledge and learn from the lives of those who once toiled there, while providing a place for reflection and introspection about the nature of slavery and its connections to modern society.

“This grant is not only celebrating the four years of work that went in from finding the slave quarters in 2016, up until the creation of the commemorative and the virtual dedication in 2020 but also the powerful potential of the work to be done,” said Erin Peters, director of the Boyden Gallery and Collection, and lecturer of museum studies, who is project director of the grant.

Julia King, professor of anthropology and member of the grant project team, made the discovery of the slave quarters with her staff and students in 2016. King said she is excited to see the next phase in the Commemorative’s development 

“NEH support is a powerful recognition of the importance of the College’s Commemorative to Enslaved People of Southern Maryland. This support will allow the College to develop the Commemorative as an educational tool for all of our stakeholders, including the greater community of which the College is a part.” 

Without the ability to have an in-person dedication that had been in planning for two years, Peters said the College didn’t stop working, but rather filtered it, switching to what would become the nationally recognized award-winning virtual dedication, “From Absence to Presence: The Commemorative to Enslaved Peoples of Southern Maryland.” 

She said now with the resources and recognition from NEH, the College can continue to activate and “make that presence larger.”

Garrey Dennie, associate professor of history and member of the grant project team,is currently spearheading a committee that has planned a two-part program celebrating the anniversary of the Commemorative, which he said, “captures the core vision that has allowed us to win the NEH grant.” More details will be announced later this month. 

To learn more about the Commemorative to Enslaved Peoples of Southern Maryland or to apply for the one-year public humanities fellow position, visit us online. 

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