By Mark F. Gray
Black History Month has long been the opportunity to honor to the impact that African American culture has on the nation. This year is no exception, and throughout Prince George’s County the Maryland National Parks and Planning Commission continues its tradition of informative and interactive events.
The Great Migration, also known as the Great Northward Migration, was the movement of six million African-Americans out of the rural Southern United States to the urban Northeast, Midwest, and West that occurred between 1916 and 1970. Following this year Association for Studying African American Life and History (ASALH) Black History Month theme, Black Migration, the month long series of events also chronicles the Black experience and the phases of African American existence from slavery through Jim Crow and how it has grown over the last century. Exhibits will explore everything from how relocation after emancipation changed the cultural landscape of United States to the impact of desegregating the military and how Black innovators impacted the 20th century.
Many residents of the nation’s most prosperous African American community aren’t aware of how earlier Black residents from the area made an impact through inventions and engineering also. These exhibitions continue to celebrate accomplishments while offering school age students a chance to value an area they call home.
Montpelier Arts Center in Laurel remains home to the annual exhibition “Moving Out, Moving In, Moving Up.” This exhibit explores the factors spurring Black migration and the resulting changes in society on the national, regional and local levels. It also explores how the 20th century marked a new and important phase in migration when African Americans moved from the rural South to the urban North searching for a better life.
“We Return Fighting: World War I and the African-American Experience,” honors the 100th anniversary of the United States’ involvement in World War I at the Arts/Harmony Regional Hall in Fort Washington Feb. 24. This exhibit highlights the experiences of Black men and women during this era, with a special focus on the African-American soldiers from Prince George’s County and their families.
After the United States declared war against Germany in April of 1917, War Department recognized the Army of 126,000 men wasn’t enough to win overseas. Once Congress passed the Selective Service Act requiring all male citizens between the ages of 21 and 31 to register for the draft, Black men eagerly joined the war effort as the opportunity to prove their loyalty, patriotism and worthiness for equal treatment in the United States.
This one-day exhibit explores the experiences of African-Americans both at home and abroad during this war and the years surrounding it. Despite the oppressive racial climate in America in the opening decades of the 20th century, African-Americans were extremely supportive of the war efforts in a variety of ways.
The 100th anniversary of the first airmail flight from Maryland is being remembered at the College Park Aviation Museum on Feb. 19. Visitors will learn about the African-American inventor, Philip B. Downing, who invented the hinged door mailbox. They will also be given the chance to design their own mailbox to take home.
According to BlackInventor.com, Downing was a resident of Washington, D.C. who designed a metal box with four legs that he patented on Oct. 27, 1891. He called his device a “street letter box” and it is the predecessor of today’s mailbox. An accomplished engineer, he also patented an electrical switch for railroads, which allowed them to supply or shut off power to trains at appropriate times. Based on this design, innovators would later create electrical switches such as light switches used in the home.
Most of these exhibits are free and all are open to the public through the end of the month.
This article originally appeared in The Afro.