Douglass home curator among six to receive Hamer award

Langston honored for historical preservation

Anne Arundel

October 06, 2002|By Gabriel Baird | Gabriel Baird,SUN STAFF

From her home in Highland Beach, Elizabeth Jean West Langston often walks next door to the Frederick Douglass Museum and Cultural Center to give tours of his former summer home.

She unlocks the door, then begins telling stories about artifacts from Douglass' life - the trunk he took to Europe, the game table where he played checkers with his grandchildren, the chair in which he rocked.

"I've gone through it so often that sometimes I go through it too fast," said Langston, 63, who helped lead the effort to get the legendary abolitionist's home turned into a museum in 1996. She now serves as its curator and as chairwoman of its board of directors.

It is her dedication to preserving and breathing life into this part of American history that has a local group honoring her in Annapolis this weekend.

Langston, the wife of Highland Beach Mayor Raymond Langston, is one of six Anne Arundel County women who will receive the Fannie Lou Hamer Award from the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Awards Dinner Committee.

The committee has given the awards during the past five years to honor the memory of Hamer, a feminist and civil rights activist who helped push for the Voting Rights Act of 1965, said Carl O. Snowden, chairman of the committee.

Other recipients of the award this year include Annapolis Alderman Classie G. Hoyle, Anne Arundel Community College President Martha A. Smith, county Councilwoman Pamela G. Beidle, church and community worker Lillian Hawkins of Annapolis and Glen Burnie activist Arleen McCleary.

H. Patrick Swygert, president of Howard University in Washington, was pleased to learn the work of his neighbor, Langston, was being recognized.

"She is quiet, unassuming," he said. "If some of us had accomplished half as much as she has, we'd be twice as loud about it."

She is described in a similar fashion by Vaughn Phillips, the member of the committee who nominated her for the award.

"She's very diligent in her efforts, but ... she doesn't do anything to promote herself," Vaughn said.

The ceremony will take place from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. today at Banneker-Douglas Museum in Annapolis, Snowden said.

The event will be open to the public; the cost is $20. The proceeds will fund the annual Martin Luther King Jr. awards dinner, held on King's birthday in January.

Langston's home and Highland Beach are as much a part of African-American history as the Douglass museum.

In 1892, Charles Douglass, one of the reformer's sons, was turned away from the county's all-white waterfront resort, Bay Ridge.

The next year, he bought the land that would become Highland Park, the state's first African-American township. His father's house was built there in 1895.

Twenty years later, Mary Church Terrell, co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, had her home built with wood from the resort that had turned Charles Douglass away.

Langston now lives in Terrell's former home, which is stocked with books on and items of African-American history.

Growing up, Langston said, too little time in her history classes was dedicated to the role that African-Americans have played in the development of this county. The same absence marked the classes her children attended, she said.

Another trouble with the schools' history instruction was that it often concentrated so heavily on memorizing names and dates, she said. Her approach in the museum is different.

"I think the more interesting we can make it for people, with tangible objects they can actually see - especially if you have stories with them that you can tell - the better," she said.

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