Help Preserve an Historic African American Neighborhood: The Hill in Easton, Md.

I’m posting the below on behalf of Historic Easton. If you could help spread the word by sharing the link to this blog post, we are in need of stories about The Hill neighborhood and also donations to support an archaeological dig this summer to help us better understand and preserve the area.

Donations can be sent to Historic Easton, PO Box 1071, Easton, MD 21601. We are a 501 (c) (3) corporation, so gifts are tax deductible. Stories about the area can be sent to HistoricEaston@gmail.com and will be used to help illustrate life in the neighborhood over the years.

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Morgan State University in partnership with Historic Easton, Inc. is embarking on a project to raise the awareness, appreciation and understanding of a currently undocumented and underrecognized aspect of the history of the African American experience in Maryland and in the Country as they seek to not only include the architectural and cultural significance of “The Hill,” located in the heart of the Town of Easton, Maryland, and within the boundaries of the Easton National Register Historic District, but to Re-Honor “The Hill”; through restoration, rebirth, renewal and regeneration.

We believe “The Hill” is the oldest African American neighborhood in the country, predating what is thought of as the oldest documented African American neighborhood: “Treme” located in New Orleans, LA.

“The Hill” was first settled prior to 1790 as a neighborhood comprising free blacks and slaves. It is documented that the first African American church congregation began on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and on “The Hill” officially in 1818 (Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, 110 South Hanson Street, Easton, Maryland). Free blacks and slaves were already living there well before 1818 and arguably thriving and well-settled as “The Hill” was chosen by the African Methodist Episcopal Baltimore Conference of 1816 to found the first African American Church organization on the Eastern Shore of Maryland starting at “The Hill.”

Whereas, “Treme” is currently  documented as the oldest African American neighborhood in the country (1810 land purchased by the City of New Orleans and subdivided in 1816 to sell lots to blacks) and is nationally recognized as the birth of Jazz; the Morgan State research effort will document that “The Hill” is older, as it was settled by 1790; and it is also underrecognized as the birth of African American Methodism on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

Wordy Wednesday: My Meeting with a Buffalo Soldier

I didn’t want the last days of February — Black History Month — to slip away without relating one of the more awesome experiences I had back in my reporting days. In 1998, I had the chance to interview Mark Matthews, age 103 at the time, and one of the last surviving Buffalo Soldiers who fought in the Old West.

I met with Matthews in the home of his daughter, not far from the Maryland/Washington, D.C., line. The first time I arrived to interview him, with a photographer in tow, we were refused because he didn’t feel up to having his picture taken that day. The photographer was disappointed, but when you’re 103, you call the shots.

The second time we arrived for the interview, Matthews was feeling better. Much better. I asked him one question and he talked for 40 minutes. I asked him a second question and he talked for 30 more minutes. When it came time for the photographer to take his picture, Matthews donned his cavalry hat, sat up straight and jutted out his chin, though he could barely see the camera that was pointed at him.

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Here’s a quick summary about Matthews:

He joined the Buffalo Soldiers 10th Cavalry shortly after meeting some of the soldiers when he was only 15. A friend helped him forge papers he needed to join up because you had to be 17 at the time to enlist.

“They got me all trained up and everything,” he said. “When I got to 17, they shipped me out right to Arizona.”

Matthews was part of the border patrol at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., where he encountered bandits, including Pancho Villa’s men. He also served in World War II.

He later was stationed at Fort Myer, Va., where he performed in drills for the likes of Queen Elizabeth II. He got to meet President Clinton twice.

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At the time I wrote the article, it was believed that Matthews was the last surviving Buffalo Soldier from his regiment. Over time, I often wondered what happened to Matthews. After years went by, I thought surely he must have passed away. Turns out, he lived until he was 111 years old! I found this tribute page with the text of his 2005 obituary from the Washington Post. It is noted in his obituaries that he was the oldest surviving Buffalo Soldier before he died. He also was the oldest man in Washington, D.C.

It’s been nearly 12 years since the interview and I still can’t believe I had the opportunity to meet this man and hear his incredible story first-hand.