“Beyond the Performative”: Social Justice and Archives, Part 2

Edited by: Casey Hughes and Sara Ludewig

In our post “Challenging the Status Quo”: Social Justice and Archives we explored the role of libraries and archives in working toward social justice and asked three University of Maryland Libraries and SCUA staff members to reflect on what social justice means to them. We’re continuing this series by exploring the perspectives of three more staff members! We asked these questions: 1) what do you do and what are some of your daily responsibilities? and 2) in your position, what does social justice in the archive or library mean to you? Their responses show the different initiatives, mindsets, and projects needed to ensure a more equitable, just, and welcoming future for libraries and archives.

Tahirah Akbar-Williams

Your position in the library – what you do and some of your daily responsibilities.

I am the Librarian for African American Studies and the College of Education. I am also one of the Diversity Officers in the Library and a Co-chair of the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility (IDEA) Committee. My duties as a librarian includes but are not limited to: collection development, reference and one-on-one consultations, instruction/teaching, and research sessions with faculty and students. Additionally, in my capacity as Diversity Officer and IDEA Co-Chair, I do a variety of diversity and inclusion advising and programming for students, faculty and library administrators. One of the career highlights for me is the creation and development of the Diversity Immersion Institute (DII).

In your position, what does social justice in the archive/library mean to you?

Social justice in the library means we create an equitable workspace where all individuals can thrive. We rise to meet the people who use our services at their point of need, whatever that need is. Social justice for me is ensuring that we have representation, equitable and inclusive spaces that embrace and celebrate: race, class, gender, religion, sexual identity, and culture. It means that we have to have equitable pay structures, promotion and retention practices. Thus, social justice means ensuring that we are making pathways for disenfranchised communities to be able to reach full economic, political, and social equity. 

I focus on anti-Black racism, in particular, because of the experience of Blacks in America, which you also can see reflected in libraries. So in the backdrop of what we learned this summer about the overall inequitable treatment of African Americans and Black people in this country, e.g: less earning potential, increased health disparities, shorter life expectancy and the mental and the emotional stress of racism (to name a few). When we look at the statement, “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness,” I have to think about who is left out of that part of the American Dream. We saw the disparities in full view with the protest this summer (some already knew) that our country has a long way to make those words ring true for African Americans. Libraries can be a model for many other institutions on how to achieve equity. We can lead the way by being active, i.e.: hiring, promotion, leadership, equal pay, creating spaces for disenfranchised communities and minoritized people.

I created and served as co-director of the Diversity Immersion Institute (DII). The DII is a social justice project that introduces African American men at an early stage (in high school) to LIS and the college experience. It simultaneously creates a space for LIS students to work with and collaborate with young African American students, librarians and other faculty of color in order  to learn about anti-racist practices. We facilitated sessions for iSchool students about critical race theory, racism, sexism, and homophobia, and librarians of color shared their experiences in the libraries. It was pretty cool because we had librarians of color in the room to talk about their experience and we had graduate students and professors of color from around campus teaching lectures which added context to their experiences. I believe white librarians were enriched by this experience. The hope is that these experiences: 1) introduce African American men to the LIS field and the college experience, and 2) empower LIS students to be anti-racist and equity advocates and to work harder to embrace social justice and racial equity.

We work with students in the iSchool who volunteered their time to learn about diversity and inclusion in practice in libraries, particularly, issues of racism and why we have so few people of color, i.e.: African American men ( 0.5% African American men). Libraries need to do more. We are behind the eight ball in terms of this issue. It’s been a lot of hot air and empty rhetoric and no action — it’s time to act. We do that by supporting projects like the DII, listening to our African American colleagues about their experiences and needs, and being forward thinking in terms of hiring and promoting with equitable pay African Americans to the highest level of librarianship.

Joni Floyd

Your position in the library – what you do and some of your daily responsibilities.

As the Curator of Maryland and Historical Collections (MDHC), I am responsible for building, interpreting, and providing access to archival and manuscript holdings that span the history and culture of the state of Maryland. I also manage collections relating to women’s history and the historic preservation of cultural resources. My work involves developing the collection with special consideration given to mending its historical and ideological gaps stemming from the systemic marginalization of voices and histories by the myopic and “top-down” collection development practices of the past. My daily responsibilities include mining the collection for reference consultations, instruction, exhibits, and research guides. 

A major MDHC goal is to increase the diversity of its donor profile. Toward this end, I participate in a scholarly agenda that involves engaging in professional, public history, and community development circles. I give workshops on community archives, and I also serve as the MARAC Archivist.

I play a leadership role in the Maryland History and Culture Collaborative, a network of information and heritage stewards interested in sustainable partnership building. As co-chair of The 1856 Project, I am building its infrastructure and outreach strategy. I also have the opportunity to mentor emerging information and heritage professionals both through supervision and by participating in the University Libraries/BIPOC Employee Resource Group’s Career Discovery Internship Program.

In your position, what does social justice in the archive/library mean to you?

To paraphrase Langston Hughes, social justice in MDHC means to support individuals, organizations, and collections that convey, “I Too Sing Maryland.” Social justice in the archives means I must regularly interrogate the politics underlying accessioning collections, the selection and distribution of resources, and the type of partnerships I generate. It means that I must become more aware of my own biases; I must shed light on any invisible labor, and I must measure outcomes to ensure our efforts move beyond the incidental or performative to standard practice. It also means that I must hold myself (and by natural extension University of Maryland Libraries) accountable to those I assist and with those I collaborate. In short, social justice in the archives means that I must not take lightly my role as a driver of systemic transformation.

Lae’l Hughes-Watkins

Your position in the library – what you do and some of your daily responsibilities.

I am the University Archivist for the University of Maryland, College Park. Generally speaking, my job involves archiving, documenting, preserving, and providing access to records related to the institutional memory of the University of Maryland. My day-to-day duties are far-ranging. A typical day could include having conversations about social media campaigns and issues of social justice in archives, mentoring new professionals, helping our amazing student Terp community with archival inquiries – that’s one of the things I get the most joy out of – to meeting with donors and increasing the visibility of University Archives. Everyone loves us when they come in and visit, but they have to know we exist first. I also make people aware of the resources we have in our space, nurture our wonderful students who work for us, giving them space to be their fabulous selves, and helping them to be ready for their first professional gig. I also help with digitization projects; it’s a lot. There’s no such thing as a routine day.

I also work on several exciting projects. The 1856 Project is one of the projects I’m really excited about. It can feel overwhelming when you think about the gravity of the work. The 1856 Project is a branch of Universities Studying Slavery for the University of Maryland. It’s not that our institution hasn’t ventured here before, but this is, to my knowledge, the first formal advisory group that has been created. Our task is to support campus efforts to build an inclusive university community. We want to enhance the collective understanding of the Black experience at UMD within the context of the surrounding community. We also want to bring into the fold and collaborate with the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in our University System. It is critical that we do this to ensure we provide a complete story regarding the history of slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, and more contemporary movements we’ve been witnessing, specifically with the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery.

In your position, what does social justice in the archive/library mean to you?

Utilizing a social justice lens in the archives has been critical, and it’s the reason I decided to join this profession. It means giving a voice to the invisible, the voiceless, and marginalized communities. When I think of my introduction to archives, it was during my thesis project for my MA in English. I was in graduate school when I first went to an archive. I’m glad I didn’t go through life ignorant of the value of archives and their role in society, in our communities, and our families. The profession itself has its challenges, but it also has fantastic opportunities. I was researching a woman of color, specifically a Black woman named Fay M. Jackson, who had an amazing history of documenting Black Hollywood and the Harlem Renaissance of the West Coast and international affairs such as Hailie Selassie. There was very little in the records at her alma mater. This would have been material from the 1920s through the 1940s. She had a phenomenal career, and there was just surprisingly very little I could utilize in the archives, despite the efforts of the fantastic archivist. I made contact with her granddaughter, who was still living, and I saw that she had all the records in her house because she didn’t trust traditional academic archives. While I didn’t yet have the theory behind me and wasn’t thinking about library school yet, I knew I wanted to address and repair that relationship. I wanted to be part of the efforts to repair that break in the line of trust from the repository to people like the granddaughter. Social justice in archives is a reparative act. Bringing in voices that have been ignored or relationships in disrepair, communities that have been left out of the records and were not seen as whole people. Doing that work is a very radical act. That’s what social justice in archives means to me. 

The march toward social justice is ongoing, that won’t go anywhere. The system of racism, this system of discrimination has always existed, from the systematic attempt to erase indigenous histories/peoples, since the arrival of the first slave, to the silencing of the LGBTQ community, to the dismantling of women’s rights. As much as I know that I’m making a dent, this is not something that will be addressed or completed in my lifetime. I think of Amanda Gorman, the poet laureate, and how she says that we are unfinished. This is work that will always be unfinished. Social justice in archives means making sure this work is a priority; you can’t let up. It’s making sure you’re carving out a space to continue addressing anti-Blackness and other anti-oppressive practices, requiring institutional support, financial support, and changing policy. We must ask what our collection development policies say about our priorities, what collections we are processing; we must ask how our commitment to equity and inclusion is reflected in our physical spaces and how we interact with our patrons from the disabled community to the elder a block away from campus. We can’t just have conversations and reading lists; those are just a start, not an endpoint.

I’m excited about the fact that I can work on Project STAND and make that a priority in my work at the University of Maryland. We’re about to hire a Project STAND coordinator. I’m looking forward to seeing what applications come in; we want someone who can embody that work. We’re looking to bring someone in who is ready to be a co-pilot on this project. I’m also excited about the Stamp Your History initiative. We were stopped in our tracks with the pandemic last year. I’m looking forward to gearing up to reaching out to students as campus opens up more, whether that’s in physical or virtual spaces. We’re working to inform students about the importance of archives and saving their stories. We want to make sure they have archivists or historians in their student organizations. Students are thinking about this already. I’m excited to be part of those conversations. I recently had a conversation with the Asian American Student Union, and they are doing amazing work. That’s a community I hadn’t had a chance to build a relationship with yet at UMD. I’m excited to make sure that students who haven’t traditionally been a part of the historical record are getting their voices heard. I’m so grateful to make these connections.

Commencement Al Fresco!

By: Anne S.K. Turkos

For the first time in 66 years, the University of Maryland has scheduled outdoor commencement ceremonies, to be held at 11 AM and 4 PM on May 21, 2021. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the two most recent campus-wide graduation ceremonies have been held virtually, but with the rising vaccination numbers and the easing of restrictions on gatherings, the university decided to proceed with an in-person celebration with limited attendance. To incorporate and abide by social distancing guidelines, the university’s colleges have been divided into two groups, hence the morning and afternoon events. Details about the protocols in place for the ceremonies appear on the commencement website.

Documentation of the location of commencement ceremonies in UMD history is somewhat spotty, particularly in the earliest years of the university, but it is likely that the first commencement celebrations for Maryland Agricultural College graduates, beginning in 1862, took place outdoors. By 1890, the ceremony had moved indoors to the College Chapel or College Hall, both located in the Barracks building which burned to the ground in the great fire of 1912.

Subsequent ceremonies were once again held outdoors. With the dedication of the Skinner Building, then known as Agriculture Hall, in 1918, the college finally had sufficient space once again to host this occasion indoors. Ceremonies were once again held outside on Morrill Quad to accommodate large crowds in the 1920s and early 1930s, notably on June 10, 1922, when World War I hero General John J. Pershing was the featured speaker.

General John J. Pershing at Commencement

The completion of Ritchie Coliseum in 1932 allowed for the expansion of commencement ceremonies to include graduates of both the College Park and Baltimore campuses.

Commencement in Ritchie Colosseum in 1933. The Class of 1933 gifted the University the Testudo statue

Single commencement ceremonies were held each spring until the World War II years, when the desire to send graduates off quickly into combat led to three commencement ceremonies in 1943, four in 1944, and two in 1945.

Following the war, the university returned to a single ceremony for the period from 1947 to 1954, but locations varied between indoors (Ritchie Coliseum and the Fifth Regiment Armory in Baltimore) and an outdoor area called the Quadrangle (known today as McKeldin Mall) to accommodate growth in enrollment. The lower half of McKeldin Mall was filled with graduates and their families, out in the hot late spring/early summer sun, as seen in this image from the June 10, 1950 ceremony.  

Commencement, June 1950

Ceremonies returned indoors, following the completion of Cole Field House, now Jones-Hill House, in 1955.  Graduates from the professional schools on the Baltimore campus continued to come to College Park for commencement until 1969, the year before the establishment of the five-campus University of Maryland System and the institution of the May-December graduation pattern that remains today.

Ceremonies remained indoors, eliminating worries about the weather, even after Cole was decommissioned following the Athletics Department move to the Xfinity Center in 2002. Many famous names have been featured at the celebrations in Xfinity over the last 20 years, including Dr. Dorothy Irene Height, Al Gore, Cal Ripken Jr., Carl Bernstein, and Elijah E. Cummings.

Fingers crossed that Mother Nature cooperates and Commencement al fresco can proceed without a hitch on May 21! Congratulations, Classes of 2020 and 2021!

More information about and images of commencement ceremonies of the past can be found here:

Commencement programs

Featured commencement speakers

Student commencement speakers

Digitized images

Author Bio

Anne S.K. Turkos is the University Archivist Emerita for the University of Maryland. She has been a part of the staff of the UMD Libraries’ Special Collections and University Archives since January 1985. Before retirement in July 2017, she worked with campus departments and units, student groups, and alumni to transfer, preserve, and make available permanent university records. She continues to support the Archives through her work on special projects and fundraising. Follow Anne on Twitter at @AnneTurkos.

DAWN OF A NEW ERA IN UMD HISTORY

By: Anne S. K. Turkos

Yesterday the University of Maryland celebrated the investiture, or formal inauguration, of President Darryll J. Pines. Dr. Pines has been a member of the UMD community since arriving on the campus in 1995 as an assistant professor of aerospace engineering. He rose through the ranks in the A. James Clark School of Engineering to serve as the chair of the Department of Aerospace Engineering for four years before taking a leave of absence to serve as a program manager for the Tactical Technology Office and Defense Sciences Office at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) from 2003 to 2006. Upon his return to campus, Dr. Pines resumed his chairmanship of the department and was promoted to dean of the Clark School in 2009. More information on President Pines’ career and accomplishments is available on his official UMD biography page.

Dr. Pines’ investiture took place in the Dekelboum Concert Hall in the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center in front of a limited number of invited guests and was live-streamed on YouTube. The ceremony, which begins at minute 19 in the stream, opened with an acknowledgment of the university’s history and heritage and included messages of congratulations from state of Maryland officials, presidents of the schools which form the University System of Maryland and the Big Ten conference, and UMD faculty, staff, and students. The four living previous UMD Presidents, John Brooks Slaughter, William E. Kirwan, C.D. Mote, and Wallace D. Loh, also sent President Pines a special message. Following his investiture, led by Linda Gooden, chair of the USM Board of Regents, and Jay Perman, USM Chancellor, Dr. Pines delivered a formal address thanking those who have been influential in his life and outlining his vision of and for the university and the world, concluding with the announcement of five new, critical initiatives:

  • Accelerate Climate Action: Net Zero Carbon Neutral Campus by 2025
  • Expand Faculty Diversity
  • Honor Trailblazers in Maryland Athletics
  • Invest in Discovery, Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Economic Development
  • Expand Arts Programming Across Campus: Arts for All

Yesterday’s ceremony and other events surrounding Dr. Pines’ investiture are just the latest in a string of inaugural festivities dating back to the surprise announcement of Benjamin Hallowell’s selection as the first Maryland Agricultural College president at the college’s opening day celebration. You can learn more about past inaugurals here.

To find the full list of all 34 men who have served as Maryland Agricultural College/University of Maryland president, visit https://www.umd.edu/history-and-mission/university-presidents

Congratulations, Dr. Pines! We look forward to many years of success under your leadership.

Author Bio

Anne S.K. Turkos is the University Archivist Emerita for the University of Maryland. She has been a part of the staff of the UMD Libraries’ Special Collections and University Archives since January 1985. Before retirement in July 2017, she worked with campus departments and units, student groups, and alumni to transfer, preserve, and make available permanent university records. She continues to support the Archives through her work on special projects and fundraising. Follow Anne on Twitter at @AnneTurkos.

Instructional Auditing and University History

By: Maureen Jones

Early archives were repositories of official government documents, and their mission was to render procedural records accessible to the public for purposes of transparency and accountability. The modern archive has departed from that rigid definition, and collects any number of things, ranging from three dimensional objects to personal papers to born-digital materials. This change has allowed archival collections to offer scholars a more rounded view of the human experience; no longer is an archive exclusively representative of governance and administration, but of the impact that law and order has on the people. This collection pattern is mimicked in any manner of institution. An archive for a business does not contain only development records for new products, but testimony from consumers who have used those products and newspaper clippings that discuss the product’s release. It is necessary to collect these informal records to gain an understanding of the way an organization operates in, and interacts with, a global society. As such, the University of Maryland University Archives strives to present well-rounded collections with diverse viewpoints.

Alongside this development, the role of the archivist has also changed. Archivists were once stewards of knowledge who oversaw records but played a passive role. The concept of archival neutrality was popular, and archivists were expected to remain entirely impartial. As the field evolved and new collection practices emerged, so did an understanding that neutrality is impossible, rather, it maintains the often-harmful status quo. Contemporary archival practitioners, including those at the University Archives, now play a more active role in framing and shaping their collections. It is our responsibility to ensure that the narrative we create does not perpetuate power imbalances, but challenges them. Part of this responsibility is reflecting on our own practices, including instruction and reference decisions, to ensure that our materials reflect a holistic campus experience and do not contribute to erasure.

In pursuit of archival practices that are both reflective of the broad range of experiences at UMD and of reckoning with the inequality of the community’s past, we have audited our library instruction for the course UNIV 100: The Student in the University. This one credit seminar introduces incoming first-year students to life at the University of Maryland, with particular focus on the founding of the Maryland Agricultural College and other relevant milestones. Our goal in auditing this course was to be more reflective of everything UMD has to offer. A school is more than its important dates and policies: it is a community of diverse individuals and a center for culture, as well as an institution with a complex past.

The original UNIV 100 curriculum provided an excellent overview of the University’s early days, documenting the process of founding MAC, the fires that ravaged the College Park campus, and the first women and Black Americans to enroll. But one thing it neglected was student life, and our audit sought to remedy that. Particular attention is now paid to UMD’s rich athletic history, including the football team’s first bowl game against the Georgia Bulldogs in 1948 and both the men’s and women’s lacrosse teams recent national victories.

UNIV 100 now takes a deeper look into the University’s past of inequity. It originally noted that George Calvert came from a wealthy slave-owning family, and used his wealth to found the Maryland Agricultural College, which was established on lands that once belonged to his plantation. The course now shines a light on the University’s history of slavery beyond that, exploring the involvement of multiple former presidents with the Confederate Army. 

In the 20th century, the University of Maryland was initially resistant to integration. UNIV 100 draws attention to the multiple lawsuits that led to the eventual integration of the school, despite the aversion of administrators like Harry “Curley” Byrd.

A black-and-white photograph depicting Thurgood Marshall giving a court address while Donald Gaines Murray and Charles Houston look on.

Thurgood Marshall, Donald Gaines Murray and Charles Houston. Maryland History Slide Collection, MSA SC 1260-129 [D7130b]. Maryland State Archives.

The importance of student activism in shaping life on campus is now at the very center of the UNIV 100 course. We analyzed our database of digitized student newspapers to find a variety of important political activities relating to a variety of causes, including racial and LGBTQ+ justice, war, and immigration. These demonstrations are reflective of the occasions in which Terps joined together to protest injustice and force change, both informally and through official means, such as the 2015 renaming of Byrd Stadium, which was a proposal introduced by Student Government. 

If you are interested in exploring these topics and more, we recommend keeping an eye out for UNIV 100 on the schedule of classes in upcoming semesters. 


Maureen Jones is a graduate student pursuing a Master’s of Library and Information Science from the University of Maryland iSchool. She is a graduate assistant at the University Archives and is interested in museum studies and reparative justice in archives.

Cook, Terry. “Macro‐appraisal and Functional Analysis: Documenting Governance Rather than Government.” Journal of the Society of Archivists 25, no. 1 (April 2004): 5–18. https://doi.org/10.1080/0037981042000199106.

Cook, Terry. “Remembering the Future: Appraisal of Records and the Role of Archives in Constructing Social Memory.” In Archives, Documentation, and Institutions of Social Memory : Essays From the Sawyer Seminar, edited by Francis X. Blouin and William G. Rosenberg, 169-181. Ann Arbor:  University of Michigan Press; 2007. 

Samuels, Helen Willa. Varsity Letters: Documenting Modern Colleges and Universities. Metuchen, N.J: Society of American Archivists ; Scarecrow Press, 1992. 

Zinn, Howard. “Secrecy, Archives, and the Public Interest.” The Midwestern Archivist 2, no. 2 (1977): 14–26.

1856 Project Update: Telling Adam Plummer’s Story

By Casey Hughes and Sara Ludewig

In the coming months the 1856 Project, the University of Maryland’s contribution to the Universities Studying Slavery, will be exploring the role that enslaved individuals played in the founding and early history of our institution. UA staff are supporting this project through archival research. In 2009, students in Dr. Ira Berlin’s HIST429 class published Knowing Our History, an exploration of the University of Maryland’s ties to slavery. One person whose story they highlighted was Adam Francis Plummer. UA staff have begun to compile the biographical details of Plummer’s life, based on the Knowing Our History report and other primary and secondary sources. Adam Plummer’s story provides a glimpse into the dynamics of slavery in Maryland in the 1850s, dynamics we know profoundly shaped both the history and present of Prince George’s County.

Adam Plummer. Photo courtesy of the Anacostia Community Museum

Adam Francis Plummer was born enslaved to George Calvert, a descendent of Maryland’s founder Lord Baltimore, in 1819 on the Goodwood plantation in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. When Plummer was ten years old George Calvert took him to Riversdale where he was made the personal servant (still enslaved) to George Calvert’s son, Charles Benedict Calvert. Charles Benedict Calvert would go on to be a founder of the University of Maryland while Adam Plummer was still enslaved by him and acting as his personal servant. 

Riversdale Mansion

As a child, Plummer was taught to read and write in secret by John Bowser, a Black Methodist preacher. This was a dangerous activity as it was illegal to teach enslaved individuals how to read or write. Plummer kept a diary throughout his life, which was donated to the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum and has been made accessible through their website.

In 1841, Adam Plummer married Emily Saunders who was enslaved at Three Sisters Plantation. Three Sisters was eight miles from Riversdale and owned by the Hilleary family. When Plummer and Saunders were married at a church in D.C. they received an official marriage certificate which was rare for enslaved individuals. After their wedding, Emily remained enslaved at Three Sisters and Adam walked to visit her every weekend. The couple would go on to have eight children that lived to adulthood, all of whom were born into slavery. 

In 1845, the Plummers planned their family’s escape to Canada intending to use their marriage certificate as proof of freedom. However, Emily told her aunt about their plans who told the plantation mistress. As a result, their marriage certificate was confiscated and Emily was sent to work in the fields. In 1851, the mistress of Three Sisters, Sarah Ogle Hilleary, died. This resulted in the sale of part of the family to Colonel Gilbert Livingston Thompson of Meridian Hill plantation in Washington, D.C. Two of the couple’s children were separated from the rest of the family at this time, and their oldest daughter Sarah Miranda was sold and sent to New Orleans in 1861.

When D.C. abolished slavery in 1862 some of the older children fled to D.C., while Emily Plummer attempted escape with her youngest children. Emily Plummer and the younger children were caught and imprisoned in Baltimore City. Charles Calvert granted Adam permission to visit his family in prison, and in 1863 Adam secured a court order to release Emily and the children. They all returned to Adam’s Riversdale cabin. In 1865, after the end of the Civil War, the family was freed. 

The Plummer family, Adam Plummer is seating in the center. Photo courtesy of Anacostia Community Museum.

After receiving his freedom, Adam continued to work for Calvert and also pursued other employment. The family was able to retrieve their oldest daughter Sarah Miranda from New Orleans in 1866. The rest of the family also secured paid work and eventually bought an eight acre family homestead in Prince George’s County, which they named Mount Rose, in 1868. Now free, some of the Plummer children pursued education at Wayland Seminary in D.C., and Robert Plummer studied at Howard University. Emily died of pneumonia in 1876. Adam lived to age eighty-six and passed away in 1905 at Mount Rose surrounded by family. In 1927, Plummer’s youngest daughter Nellie published a book entitled Out of the Depths or the Triumph of the Cross. The book recounts the family’s history and their long struggle for freedom based on the oral testimonies of Adam, Emily, Sarah Miranda, and Henry Plummer. 

As research for the 1856 Project continues, we hope to uncover and share the stories of enslaved individuals associated with the University of Maryland and its founding. The traditional narratives surrounding University of Maryland history silence an entire group of people, reproducing structures of white supremacy and oppression. As research continues we hope to begin to undo these structures of silence, giving voice to those who have been excluded from the stories we tell in order to develop a fuller picture of our past and determine new avenues for a reparative future. 

Exploring Dr. King’s Radical Legacy

By Alan Wierdak, Sara Ludewig, and Casey Hughes

Today, as we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s 92nd birthday, we are thinking about the legacy of MLK’s work and the civil rights movement at the University of Maryland. We partnered with the Meany Labor Archives to consider the legacy and reality of Martin Luther King Jr. as an activist and the implications for labor archives and university archives today.

When most people think about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. they think of a handful of popular images: Dr. King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington and his leadership with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) during the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In her book A More Beautiful and Terrible History, Jeanne Theoharis describes how popular narratives of civil rights leaders like Rosa Parks or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “are embraced yet simultaneously stripped of their political substance and courageous steadfastness (and what their legacies demand of us today).”1 As a historian, Theoharis seeks to restore the political weight, radical politics, and determined organizing that have been erased from our narratives of civil rights. Instead of focusing on prominent images of King like his leadership in the March on Washington and the I Have a Dream speech, she writes of King’s critiques of liberal racism, his labor organizing, and his unpopularity among the majority of white Americans at the time of his death.2 Theoharis writes of the need for “fuller histories — uncomfortable, sobering histories — that hold a mirror to the nation’s past and offer far-reaching lessons for seeing the injustices of our current moment and the task of justice today.”3 In doing so, she emphasizes the role of everyday people, including young people and community activists, in fighting for racial and economic justice. Shifting away from a sanitized, neatly packaged version of civil rights history, she instead illuminates the powerful impact of everyday people on civil rights activism and the legacy of this activism in today’s organizing for racial and economic justice. 

Martin Luther King’s Legacy and Labor Archives

In 1961, Dr. King outlined his dream to the AFL-CIO convention. “Our needs are identical with labor’s needs,” King told the audience. “That is why the labor hater and labor baiter is virtually always a twin-headed creature, spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth, and anti-labor propaganda from the other mouth.” Dr. King clearly identified the link between organized labor and the fight for civil rights and racial justice, but his involvement in the labor movement went beyond that. Below are some photos of King speaking at the AFL-CIO convention in 1961 from the Meany Labor Archive’s AFL-CIO Photograph collection4

Before Dr. King’s speech before the AFL-CIO convention in 1961, he told the audience at the 1957 United Packinghouse Workers Union convention that “organized labor can be one of the most powerful instruments in putting an end to discrimination and segregation.” But at first, feeling pressured by segregationist groups, the AFL-CIO was reluctant to be directly involved in supporting the Civil Rights movement.5 

Dr. King was involved in other labor strikes, as well. In 1954, Dr. King joined an organizing effort by Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) Local 1199 members in Newark, New Jersey, telling hospital workers that “your great organizing crusade to win union and human rights for New Jersey hospital workers is part and parcel of the struggle we are conducting in the Deep South.” At the rally, striking workers held signs that read “Martin Luther King Supports Hospital Strikers,” and “Martin Luther King is an Honorary Member of Local 1199.”6 Below is a photo from our collections of Dr. King standing with Bayard Rustin, Leon Davis, and Nick Zonarich when working with Local 1199.7 

In 1964, Dr. King also joined in support of seven hundred Black women on strike at the Scripto Pen Plant in Atlanta. King joined the picket line and called for a boycott of Scripto products, which helped to receive national attention for the strike.8 Here is a photo of Dr. King on the picket line with striking Scripto workers from our collections9

In the fall of 1965, Dr. King also helped form the Chicago Freedom Movement, which was a partnership between the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Coordinating Committee of Community Organizations. In February 1966, nearly eighty Chicago labor leaders met with Dr. King at a luncheon sponsored by the Chicago United Packinghouse Workers. The meeting lent additional support for the Chicago Freedom Movement from the labor movement. A month later, fourteen thousand people heard Dr. King speak at the Chicago Freedom Festival at the Chicago Amphitheater. In July 1966, a crowd of fifty thousand heard Dr. King speak at Soldiers Field in Chicago, where he told the audience “we are tired of being seared in the flames of withering injustice. We are tired of paying more for less. We are tired of living in rat-infested slums…. We are tired of inferior, segregated, and overcrowded schools that are incapable of preparing our young people for leadership and security in this technological age. We are tired of discrimination in employment, which makes us the last hired and the first fired.” After this, Dr. King led a crowd of five thousand people on a march to City Hall where he posted eight demands to make Chicago an “open city” on the door.10 These efforts led Chicago Mayor Richard Daley to label King as an “outside agitator,” reminding residents that FBI director J. Edgar Hoover considered King “the most notorious liar in the United States.”11 This is significant because King’s work in Chicago influenced young activists in Chicago such as chairman of the Chicago Black Panther Party, Fred Hampton, who was murdered just a few years later by Chicago police in an effort led by Mayor Daley and J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. This reflects King’s longer, more radical legacy that is often obscured by mainstream narratives. 

As many already know, Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968. King was in Memphis supporting striking sanitation workers organized under the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). It is worth noting that by the time Dr. King arrived in Memphis on March 18, 1968, the sanitation workers had been on strike for five weeks.12 This is significant because it relates to labor archives, and how archivists document organized labor and the link between labor and social justice. In 1971, historian Howard Zinn called upon archivists to examine several points he believed to be true: archival collecting is “biased towards the important and powerful,” ignoring the “impotent and obscure,” and that archival collecting focuses on individuals instead of movements. Zinn cites a specifically relevant example, asking archivists if Boston University, “proud that it holds the papers of Martin Luther King,” collected the stories of students “clubbed by police” at the Student Union.13 This helps to inform the importance of actively documenting grassroots activism in the labor movement. Instead of focusing on labor leadership, labor archives should prioritize the stories of the everyday activists often obscured by top-down narratives. Returning to the striking sanitation workers in Memphis in 1968, hindsight reveals the importance of documenting the five weeks prior to Dr. King’s arrival to show what Theoharis refers to as “fuller” and “uncomfortable” histories of the Civil Rights movement.

For labor archives, all of this reflects the need to actively pursue the stories of everyday activists and grassroots movements, especially before leadership arrives. While social movements have indeed shifted since the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, struggles over similar issues continue, and the importance of organized labor in these issues remains as significant as it was then. In the Meany Archives, we work to highlight this historic struggle while also documenting the movement in the present moment. An example of this is the work we’ve done to document rallies held by the labor movement in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and rallies in response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, and others. On June 8, 2020, we interviewed Kenneth Rigmaiden, general president of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) at Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, DC at a labor-organized event in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. 

A few weeks later, we interviewed labor historian Peter Cole about the activism of dockworkers around the historic Juneteenth strike by dockworkers with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). At the planned ILWU work stoppage at the Port of Oakland, Civil Rights icon and longtime activist Angela Davis spoke. Here is a link to that interview with Peter Cole. 

Dr. King’s legacy shows archivists the importance of documenting the stories of everyday activists and movements before these movements receive national attention. To do this, institutional repositories especially need to make a consistent effort to build relationships with the communities they seek to collect stories and records from. In addition to consistency, these relationships need to be built around transparency, trust, and collaboration. Archives need to be seen as a tool, a resource, and more importantly, as an ally for these communities, activists, and movements to overcome the perspective of archives predominantly collecting records that, at best, uphold and maintain the status quo.

Martin Luther King’s Legacy and University Archives

In October 1968, students belonging to the Black Student Union rallied on the steps of the Home Economics building at the University of Maryland. Triggered by the rejection of Black students from a home economics nutrition study and incidents of racial violence on campus, the students gathered to protest discrimination.14 With links to other local and national movements, including the Black Power Movement, these students were everyday activists, working at the grassroots to pursue racial justice on their college campus. 

In the past months, we at UA have highlighted on social media the activism of UMD students of the past, and their stories are ones we are continually interested in telling. We remember the passion and dedication of students who protested the Vietnam War and bombing of Cambodia, students who fought for desegregation of the University of Maryland and racial justice for Black students, students who pushed for ADA compliance in the name of disabled students, and those who stood against the University’s investment in South African apartheid. But student activism did not end after the 70s and 80s. Many UMD students today are just as focused on creating positive change here on campus and in the world. 

Looking at recent years, UMD students have been involved in many forms of activism, voicing dissent in the face of injustice and voicing support for members of the community who need it most. These activities include a post-election walkout on November 17, 2016, the Fire the Liars protest in response to the death of Jordan McNair in November 2018, the September 2019 climate strike, and the I Stand with Dreamers march in November 2019. Student organizations like ProtectUMD, the UMD Pride Alliance, MaryPIRG, and the Sustainability Cooperative have been advocates for justice on our campus. As a major part of University of Maryland history, University Archives works to preserve their stories. More recently, a new student organization, Black Terps Matter, has been engaging in activism on UMD’s campus, triggered by the police brutality and violence against Black Americans this summer. They have protested and advocated for racial justice to UMD administration, but like Martin Luther King Jr., have also been involved in a wide array of issues including seeking economic justice. Black Terps Matter are an example of a grassroots organization working on a small scale to produce change in their community. Now and in the future, University Archives plans to work with such organizers to preserve and remember the University of Maryland students who are so dedicated to producing positive change. 

As we seek to uncover and make accessible “fuller histories” of the struggle for racial justice we turn to the ways everyday people, including students at the University of Maryland, participated in struggles for racial and social justice throughout history. We also acknowledge Dr. King’s radical legacy, one outside of the neatly packaged version of civil rights used for political purposes, and how this legacy is reflected in the ongoing struggle for racial and social justice on our campus. 


  1. Jeanne Theoharis, A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History (Boston: Beacon Press, 2018), xix. 
  2. Theoharis, 3.
  3. Theoharis, xvii.
  4.  RG96-001.2.12.55, King, Martin Luther, Jr., Box: 12, Folder: 55. AFL-CIO Information Department, Photographic Prints collection, 0088-LBR-RG96-001. Special Collections and University Archives. https://archives.lib.umd.edu//repositories/2/archival_objects/365567.
  5. Philip Foner, Organized Labor and the Black Worker, 1619-1981, (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2017), 316-317.
  6. Foner, 360-361.
  7. RG96-001.2.12.55, King, Martin Luther, Jr., Box: 12, Folder: 55. AFL-CIO Information Department, Photographic Prints collection, 0088-LBR-RG96-001. Special Collections and University Archives. https://archives.lib.umd.edu//repositories/2/archival_objects/365567.
  8. Foner, 361.
  9. RG96-001.2.12.55, King, Martin Luther, Jr., Box: 12, Folder: 55. AFL-CIO Information Department, Photographic Prints collection, 0088-LBR-RG96-001. Special Collections and University Archives. https://archives.lib.umd.edu//repositories/2/archival_objects/365567
  10. Foner, 364.
  11. Foner, 364.
  12. Foner, 378.
  13. Howard Zinn, “Secrecy, Archives, and the Public Interest,” The Midwestern Archivist 2, no. 2 (1977): 21.
  14. “Claiming Their Space: Black Student Activism at the University of Maryland,” digital exhibit, http://bsuatumd.artinterp.org/omeka/exhibition-about.

“Challenging the Status Quo”: Social Justice and Archives

2020 has laid bare many of the structural inequalities in American society. We have seen COVID-19 expose inequalities of wealth, access to resources, and the value of labor. We have seen systemic racism and violence against Black Americans, violence enacted against the transgender community, human rights violations against immigrants at the US-Mexico border, and threats of healthcare coverage cuts for the disabled community. Although these inequalities and injustices have always existed, in the past nine months many of us have spent more time than ever before thinking about how we as individuals, and the institutions we represent, contribute to systems of oppression and injustice.

Archives are a part of larger systems of injustice and oppression in our society. Archives can be vehicles of white supremacy, and have traditionally served as gatekeepers that maintain colonial structures.1 For example, as memory keepers archives often exclude images and records of violence against marginalized communities and, as such, offer “archival amnesty” and implicitly condone human rights abuses against marginalized groups.2 In order to ensure equitable access to all, we need to actively work to decolonize our collections and our policies. We need to consciously support a social justice agenda, one that rejects the violence perpetuated by the age-old idea that archives can and should be neutral.3

But what role can archives play in working toward social justice? 

We asked four University of Maryland Libraries and SCUA staff members what social justice means to them. We asked these questions: 1) what do you do and what are some of your daily responsibilities? and 2) in your position, what does social justice in the archive or library mean to you? Their responses show the wide range of approaches and work that needs to be done in order to make archives more equitable, just, and welcoming spaces. 

Kate Dohe

Your position in the library – what you do and some of your daily responsibilities.

I am the manager of the Digital Programs & Initiatives department for UMD Libraries, in our technology division. Broadly speaking, my group manages our digital repositories, like Digital Collections and DRUM, as well as services like digital preservation, e-Publishing, and research data services. We’re responsible for some big projects, like leading implementation efforts for launching a new media repository platform in 2021 or migrating our digital archive to the cloud, as well as a lot of maintenance work and activities regarding the availability, use, and preservation of the Libraries’ digital assets.  

In your position, what does social justice in the archive/library mean to you?

I think about this question with a few different lenses, as a digital librarian by trade. First, I believe that libraries are not neutral, and consequently, our technology and systems are not neutral, either. Digital libraries inherit some of the great aspirations of libraries as social justice organizations, and many of the mission statements of large digital library projects aim to be global repositories of human knowledge, available to anyone on the planet with access to the internet. However, the systems and services we make — and a great deal of digital library technology is made and maintained by cultural heritage employees — inherit many of our biases and privileges, and as a result they can frequently center whiteness and wealth. This manifests in a lot of ways, like what we choose to digitize and why (and preserve and make accessible), what we describe and to what extent, what expertise and institutional investment is required to run local digital libraries and repositories, what algorithms we implement, and what assumptions we make about the abilities and resources available to our end users. I think this needs to be tackled interpersonally, organizationally, and professionally—and there are a lot of ways to get there on every front—but ultimately making intentional choices and changes about what labor, experience, and perspectives count is the way I try to work in this space. 

Laura Cleary 

Your position in SCUA – what you do and some of your daily responsibilities

I am the Instruction and Outreach Librarian. I administer our primary source instruction program, website, social media, events, exhibitions, and other outreach. I teach one-shot sessions to help students learn how to use archival items to answer their research questions, to find archival items in ours and others’ collections, and to use archival items responsibly. I help others with their instruction planning. I manage website development and maintenance and advise on development and implementation of web tools, such as our archival databases. I oversee and advise the work in our exhibition program, both in our gallery and in our small exhibit cases inside the reading room. I identify opportunities for events, lead the planning, and execute those events. I created our social media program which is now managed by various social media administrations. I advise at a top level on our SCUA accounts and contribute content occasionally.

In your position, what does social justice in the archive mean?

In regards to instruction, social justice is central to how we teach students to use the archive. Over the past few years, my colleagues and I have worked to focus our instruction around archival ethics and empathy, feature material that represents a wide range of experiences, and expose gaps and absences while encouraging learners to consider how and why those absences exist. We want to ensure that future researchers approach all archives with a critical eye and can more easily. For example, I have had students explore exhibition webpages, like this one, select an item and do a primary source analysis. When they look at what we have, who created the item, and whose viewpoint is represented by these items, it can help them understand issues of archival absences more deeply. 

I also try to incorporate social justice into our outreach, especially our exhibition program. Our upcoming exhibition will be about Voting Rights in America. We wanted to feature the history of voting rights over time, and the struggles that people have boldly faced throughout history and into today. We also try to tie one of our annual events to the First Year Book on campus, this year about algorithms and oppression, and we are combing our collections to look for historical items that related to the topics in the book. It has been a fun way to expose the more unexpected aspects of our collection.

Alan Wierdak 

Your position in SCUA – what you do and some of your daily responsibilities

My position in SCUA is a dual appointment as a student assistant and a library services assistant in our labor collections, also known as the Meany Labor Archive. My main daily responsibilities are reference and outreach, and assisting with instruction when necessary. My reference responsibilities center around responding to reference questions from a wide variety of patrons around the world. My outreach responsibilities include running our social media accounts on Instagram and Twitter, as well as producing the Cool Things in the Meany Archives podcast, co-producing the weekly Labor History Today podcast, and contributing to the Labor Radio Podcast Network

In your position, what does social justice in the archive mean?
In my position, I think social justice in the archive means challenging the status quo and working to establish an inclusive environment across the board. I think a lot about the choice historian Howard Zinn offered at the annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists in 1970: “to follow the politics of the going order,” and “do our job within the priorities and directions set by the dominant forces of society,” or to “promote those human values of peace, equality, and justice, which our present society denies.” Social justice in the archive in my position is to promote those values, especially in terms of the collection material that we highlight on social media and other forms of outreach. 

One thing I try to do in outreach and engagement work is to invoke labor history to shed light on current issues and struggles in the labor movement. Social justice in the archive, in this capacity, also includes a consistent effort to attend rallies, protests, and other labor events and actions to document as much as possible, be present and build strong relationships with folks in the labor movement. For me, this work really started back at the end of 2018 and into 2019, with documenting the federal government shutdown. We attended rallies and protests, collected signs, documented the events, and shared them on social media. I specifically remember when federal workers occupied the Hart building at the Senate, making signs out of paper plates because larger signs were not allowed in the building. After 33 minutes of silent protest, workers collectively raised their fists and chanted “no more food banks! We need paychecks!” And it was such a powerful moment. 

Since then, I’ve attended countless rallies organized by the labor movement, including a UFCW rally demanding a fair contract from Safeway, rallies to save the USPS, and more recently, rallies and protests against police brutality. In early June of this year, we attended a Labor for Black Lives Matter rally, organized by IUPAT General President Ken Rigmaiden outside of the AFL-CIO building at the newly designated Black Lives Matter Plaza. Before the rally, outside of the building, with masks on, we interviewed Rigmaiden, who spoke not only about the importance of rallying in support of Black Lives Matter, but also his history of experiencing police brutality in San Jose, California. Our most recent outreach and engagement efforts were attending a candlelight vigil organized by the CLUW on the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, and attending the Commitment March: Get Your Knee Off Our Necks, organized by Reverend Al Sharpton after the murder of George Floyd, held on the 57th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, where Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. Ken Rigmaiden, who we interviewed a few months prior, also spoke at the Commitment March. I do a lot of this with the mentality that nobody owes us their history, their records. It is instead up to us to earn that trust and actively seek these stories, and this history, as it happens. To summarize, the goal of my outreach and engagement work is to actively pursue instead of passively collect. 


Social justice in the archive, in my opinion, also means expanding our digital collections, especially during a pandemic when the library has been physically closed and everyone is working and/or researching remotely. In addition to the material we’ve collected from documenting rallies, protests, and other labor events that have been shared on social media, we have been increasing our digital collections in other ways. The first has been through YouTube, where we’ve been uploading digitized films and speeches to the Hornbake Library YouTube channel. The digitized films feature “Freedom Ride,” an extremely valuable primary source released shortly after the Freedom Rides ended, narrated by founder James Farmer, featuring footage of the late congressman and Civil Rights icon John Lewis. Also, I recently created several one-image videos of digitized speeches from A. Philip Randolph and Cesar Chavez, and uploaded them to the YouTube channel. The other way I’ve been working to increase digital collections is through digitizing photos focused on labor and social justice movements onto UMD digital collections. Two examples of this are a series of photos from the 1914 Ludlow Massacre in Colorado, and a series of photos highlighting the struggle over voting rights and voter registration


To conclude, when doing this work I often reframe social justice as anti-oppression, and I think anti-oppression in archives means lifting the voices and the stories of the oppressed to challenge the preexisting oppressive narratives that often exist in mainstream archives. This, in my view, requires active engagement and participation in ongoing struggles, and there is so much work to be done. 


  1. Ashley Farmer, “Archiving While Black,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 22, 2018, https://www.chronicle.com/article/archiving-while-black/. Michelle Caswell and Marika Cifor, “From Human Rights to Feminist Ethics: Radical Empathy in the Archives,” Archivaria 81 (Spring 2016); Ricardo Punzalan and Michelle Caswell, “Critical Directions for Archival Approaches to Social Justice,” Library Quarterly 86, no. 1 (2016); Kimberly Christen and Jane Anderson, “Toward Slow Archives,” Archival Science 19 (2019).
  2. Tonia Sutherland, “Archival Amnesty: In Search of Black American Transitional and Restorative Justice,” Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies 1, no. 2 (2017).
  3. Jennifer A. Ferretti, “Neutrality is Hostility: The Impact of (False) Neutrality in Academic Librarianship,” Medium, February 13, 2018, https://medium.com/@CityThatReads/neutrality-is-hostility-the-impact-of-false-neutrality-in-academic-librarianship-c0755879fb09.

This blog is part of a two part series. Stay tuned for part two in 2021!

Editors:

Casey Hughes is a graduate student pursuing her Masters in Library Science. She is a graduate student assistant in University archives at the University of Maryland. She is interested in archival instruction and adding more diverse voices to archival collections.

Sara Ludewig is a graduate student pursuing a Master’s of Library and Information Science and a Master’s of Arts in History. She is graduate student assistant in University Archives at the University of Maryland. She is interested in oral history, creating a more inclusive archival record, and advocacy and outreach in archives.

Fire! Fire! M.A.C. in Flames

In honor of the anniversary of the Great Fire of 1912, we’re reposting this blog from November 2016.

The 40 cadets who remained on the Maryland Agricultural College (M.A.C.) campus during the 1912 Thanksgiving weekend would never have predicted the catastrophic event that altered the campus’ future.

On Friday evening, November 29, the gallant cadets arranged an impromptu dance.  Their charming dates, in resplendent dress, gathered on the first floor of the Administration Building.

group-at-dance_crop
Thanksgiving dance–M.A.C. cadets and their dates

At the peak of their mirth, around 10:30 p.m., the Cadet Major was notified that a blaze had begun in the Administration Building between the third and fourth floors.

The alarm sounded!

Initially, the brave cadets fought the blaze.  They scrambled to rescue their classmates’ property, and miraculously, many of the valuable records in the offices of President R.W. Silvester and the college treasurer were also saved.

president-silvester_crop
R.W. Silvester (Pres. 1892-1912) resigned “broken-hearted” shortly thereafter

The ladies, adorned in evening gowns, contributed to the heroic efforts of their escorts as they worked to fight the flames.

Never was there a more nervy bunch of girls.  The heroic way in which they helped to save our belongings will go down in the history of old M.A.C.  No praise can be too high, no tribute can be too great for them.

Reveille, 1913

Hyattsville fire departments were called and fought desperately against a stiff wind, until tragically the water supply was depleted.

ruins-after-1912-fire

Saturday morning, the devastation became a reality in the bright sunshine.

The Barracks, M.A.C.’s original college building, and the administration building lay in ruins. Newspaper reports estimated the loss at $150,000. Every dorm room was destroyed, as well as half of the classrooms and offices.  These two buildings housed 200 students and served as the music hall and science hall, in addition to the kitchen, chapel, and laundry.  They served as the backdrop for faculty and athlete photos, such as these shots from the 1911 Reveille yearbook.

The people in nearby towns threw open their doors to us.  The College work went on, almost without a break . . . The old school has emerged triumphant.

Reveille, 1913

It looked for a time as though M.A.C. would have to suspend operations indefinitely.  But four days after the fire, every student, save one, reported for duty, resolved to keep the College going.  The sense of loss was soon overcome with an indomitable spirit.

Today marks the 108th anniversary of this landmark event in University of Maryland history. You can find more information about the Great Fire of 1912 at https://www.lib.umd.edu/fire.

Anne S. K. Turkos is the University Archivist Emerita for the University of Maryland. She has been a part of the staff of the UMD Libraries’ Special Collections and University Archives since January 1985. Before retirement in July 2017, she worked with campus departments and units, student groups, and alumni to transfer, preserve, and make available permanent university records. She continues to support the Archives through her work on special projects and fundraising. Follow Anne on Twitter at @AnneTurkos.

Spooky (Terrapin) Tales

By: Anne Turkos

Normally around this time of the year, the University of Maryland Archives would be fielding lots of inquiries about ghosts on campus and requests for ghost tours. Unfortunately the pandemic has put a crimp in all this fun, but we thought we would share some of our favorite chilling tales with you and direct you to the UMD’s online ghost tour for information about spooky sites around the university.

Probably the most widely known tale relates to the Rossborough Inn, the oldest building on campus, which is one of the best sites to observe unexplained paranormal occurrences.  The Rossborough, built between 1804 and 1812, was named for its builder John Ross, a tavern keeper and local landowner, and was one of the original university buildings. The building has also served as the headquarters for the Agricultural Experiment Station, housing for faculty and students, a faculty-staff club, and office space for University Relations staff. It is currently occupied by staff from Undergraduate Admissions.

The Rossborough Inn also served as the headquarters of Confederate General Bradley T. Johnson when he and his troops made camp at the college during the Civil War. Both Union and Confederate armies occupied this land for brief periods between April and July 1864.  Although we have no record of soldiers dying on campus, the ghost of a Confederate soldier is said to walk these grounds.

The existence of another ghost linked to this same time period has been confirmed by 20th-century observers.  During the Civil War, a woman named Miss Bettie managed the Inn.  Her ghost, clad in a long yellow gown in the style of the period, has been sighted several times walking the halls of the Inn.  In 1981, Larry Donnelly, a dining services employee, spotted a female ghost in the Inn during renovations to the building.  Several weeks after this occurrence, a waiter at the Inn saw the same woman, attired in a long yellow dress just as Donnelly had described.  Perhaps Miss Bettie is also responsible for other unexplained occurrences at the Inn such as a vase of flowers appearing on its own, doors opening and lights turning off on their own accord, footsteps sounding overhead when no one is there, and a strange face appearing in mirrors and windows.

Another of UMD’s 19th-century buildings, Morrill Hall, is the scene for several ghostly legends.  Over the years, members of the campus community have reported hearing the sound of marching feet outside the building, the location of a portion of the drill ground utilized by the Maryland Agricultural College cadets in the school’s early years.  Beginning in the 1860s, the college was run as a military school, following its designation in 1865 as Maryland’s land grant institution by the state legislature.  One of the requirements of the Morrill Land Grant Act was mandatory military training, so the students were organized into a corps of cadets and divided into several companies, each with its own commander.  When you look at 19th and early 20th-century photographs of the campus in the University Archives, you can see quite clearly that the parade ground utilized by the cadets was not far away from Morrill Hall.  This drill field was also the scene of many a punishment when individual cadets had misbehaved and were required to shoulder their rifles and march back and forth for hours to work off the demerits they received.

The two largest buildings on campus in the early days of the Maryland Agricultural College, the Barracks and the Administration Building, once stood near Morrill Hall.  They were located where LeFrak Hall and the South Campus Dining Hall stand now.  On the night of November 29, 1912, cadets were holding a Thanksgiving dance when a fire broke out. The cadets escorted their dates out of the building and went back inside to fight the flames. Some retrieved documents and furniture while others began flinging their personal possessions out of the windows.  By the time the Hyattsville fire brigade arrived, both buildings were a total loss.  The firemen, students, and residents from the surrounding community worked through the night to save the other campus structures nearby, including Morrill Hall.  Although no one was hurt and no lives were lost, the memory of that night burned brightly in the minds of those who survived.  Perhaps Morrill Hall has its own memory of that night.  Inhabitants of the building have reported smelling smoke at odd times when no fire is present and encountering other strange odors, particularly in the basement of the building.  Many believe that these smoky odors harken back to the Great Fire of 1912.

In 2018, the Archives learned of another eerie occurrence in Morrill Hall from an advisor in the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences. The advisor in question made a habit of never closing or locking her office door, but one Monday morning, after no one had been in the office over the weekend, she came in to find that everything was locked up tight. After the Lock Shop staff finished their work, she opened the door to find all of her books off the shelves and spread across the floor in a semicircle.

The Maryland Ghosts and Spirits Association also detected the presence of numerous spirits in this building during their 2002 visit to campus.

Miss Bettie and all the doings at the Rossborough Inn are our best known ghost story, but we would like to highlight one other campus site that is not as visible—the McNamee cemetery, located between the Stadium Parking Garage and the North Campus Dorms.

The cemetery contains the remains of several members of the McNamee family, who sold that section of the campus to the university in 1938.  We are reasonably sure of at least two of the identities of individuals buried there.  One of the deceased was a child named Albert McNamee, the son of Charles and Elizabeth McNamee. Albert was born in 1904 and unfortunately burned to death in a barn fire at the age of four.  Martha Bryant McNamee is supposedly buried there as well.  Her date of death is unknown, but she died sometime before 1900 because her husband is listed as widowed in the 1900 census.  At present, we have no other information about the lives of the McNamee family or who else might be buried there.  

One of the conditions of the sale of the property was that the university had to maintain the cemetery in perpetuity. The cemetery was bricked over many years ago, supposedly to prevent anyone from disturbing the graves, although some speculate that it may have been to keep whoever is buried in the graves from disturbing the campus.

Hornbake Library, home to the University of Maryland Archives, is the final stop on this abbreviated ghost tour of campus. The ghost in Hornbake has been seen on the first and second floors of the library by several staff members, either as a woman in a business suit or a fast-moving black blob. Other staffers have heard her high heels on the linoleum floor on the second floor or heard her rustling around in the stacks. She has been spotted or heard from at various times during the day, but usually in the late afternoon or early evening.

It is likely that this is the same visitor who has been startling one of the staff working in a secluded storage area. Sam has spent many hours alone in this space, she thinks…yet sometimes boxes fall off the shelves on their own, and she has heard voices and footsteps when she knows no one else is around…

Spooked enough?

We hope you have enjoyed this abbreviated ghost tour of campus. You can find these tales and many others on the UMD Ghost Tour which is best viewed using Google Chrome. Enjoy, and Happy Halloween!

Author Bio

Anne S. K. Turkos is the University Archivist Emerita for the University of Maryland. She has been a part of the staff of the UMD Libraries’ Special Collections and University Archives since January 1985. Before retirement in July 2017, she worked with campus departments and units, student groups, and alumni to transfer, preserve, and make available permanent university records. She continues to support the Archives through her work on special projects and fundraising. Follow Anne on Twitter at @AnneTurkos.

Terps In Space

By: Anne Turkos

In 2021, Maryland alumna Dr. Jeanette Epps will make history as the first African American female astronaut to serve as a member of the crew aboard the International Space Station. This announcement in late August prompted us to remember the four other Terps who have soared far above the Earth.

Judith Resnik

Our first Terp in space was Dr. Judith Resnik. She received her Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Maryland in 1977, and NASA named her an astronaut the following year. Prior to her selection for the astronaut corps, Dr. Resnik was employed as a design engineer at RCA, as a biomedical engineer and staff fellow at the Laboratory of Neurophysiology at the National Institutes of Health, and as a senior systems engineer at the Xerox Corporation. Dr. Resnik first flew as a mission specialist on STS-41D, the maiden flight of the orbiter Discovery. On this 1984 flight, she logged 144 hours and 57 minutes in space. She was among the members of the crew of the orbiter Challenger, which exploded shortly after take-off on January 28, 1986, killing all onboard. Dr. Resnik and her fellow crew members received the Congressional Space Medal of Honor posthumously, on July 23, 2004.

William McCool

William (Willie) McCool received his master’s degree in computer science from the university in 1985, two years after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy with a bachelor of science degree in applied science. He completed flight training in the Navy in August 1986 and spent over 2,800 hours in the air in 24 different aircraft before his selection as an astronaut in April 1996. His first space flight was to be his last. Following a successful 16-day mission, during which the crew conducted over 80 experiments, McCool and his fellow astronauts perished aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia, 16 minutes prior to scheduled landing, on February 1, 2003. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, the NASA Space Flight Medal, the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, and the Defense Distinguished Service Medal (DDSM).

Paul Richards

Paul Richards, a 1991 graduate with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, spent March 8th through 21st, 2001, in space on the STS-102 Discovery mission to the International Space Station. During this mission, he was one of two crew members to perform an extra-vehicular activity (a spacewalk) for a total of 6 hours and 21 minutes. He presented University of Maryland President C. D. Mote, Jr., with a banner he took on this mission at a ceremony during Maryland Day 2001. In addition to his service as a mission specialist, Richards has held other positions within NASA. He helped develop software for the space shuttle and International Space Station and served as the Observatory Manager for the Geotstationary Operational Environmental Satellite (2004-2014) and the Deputy Project Manager for the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration Project focused on the next generation of satellite communication using laser technology. Richards retired from NASA in 2019.

Richard Arnold II

Richard “Ricky” Arnold II received his master of science degree in marine biology from UMD in 1992 and was selected as mission specialist in 2004. Prior to his selection by NASA, he worked in the marine sciences and had served as a teacher in such places as Morocco, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia.  His first journey into space was aboard the space shuttle Discovery, on a February 2009 mission to the International Space Station. As part of this mission, Arnold completed two spacewalks, for a total of 12 hours and 34 minutes outside the station. He was also part of an international crew, consisting of two American astronauts and one Russian cosmonaut, for Expedition 55/56 from March 21 to October 4, 2018. During this mission he completed an additional three spacewalks to perform maintenance and upgrades on the space station. He is currently classified as a management astronaut, no longer eligible for flight assignment, and is assigned to the Johnson Space Center in Texas.

Jeanette Epps

Dr. Jeanette Epps is the most recent Terp to join the astronaut corps. She was selected as a member of the 2009 astronaut class and completed her candidate training in 2012. Dr. Epps received her master’s degree in aerospace engineering from UMD in 1994 and her Ph.D. in 2000. While she was in graduate school, she was a NASA fellow and authored several frequently cited journal and conference articles about her research on composite swept-top beams and shape memory alloys. Following completion of her graduate studies, she spent several years at the Ford Motor Company as a Technical Specialist in their Scientific Research Laboratory, where her work led to the award of a patent relating to automobile collision location detection. She spent an additional seven years at the CIA as a Technical Intelligence Officer before her selection as an astronaut. 

1963 Terrapin Yearbook

The university has a connection to another famous astronaut—John Glenn, who attended classes in the late 1950s in the unit of UMD known as University College when he was stationed at the Pentagon. University College became its own independent campus in 1970 and is now called University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC).The 1963 Terrapin yearbook cover features Testudo in a space capsule circling the world to honor Glenn’s achievement as the first American to orbit the Earth aboard Friendship 7 on February 20, 1962. You can read more about John Glenn in the blog linked here!

https://umdarchives.wordpress.com/2016/12/15/john-glenn-a-terp-in-space/

Author Bio

Anne S.K. Turkos is the University Archivist Emerita for the University of Maryland. She has been a part of the staff of the UMD Libraries’ Special Collections and University Archives since January 1985. Before retirement in July 2017, she worked with campus departments and units, student groups, and alumni to transfer, preserve, and make available permanent university records. She continues to support the Archives through her work on special projects and fundraising.