Oral histories recall ways of life in Southern Maryland that no longer exist

Whether it's working in an oyster house or post-World War II discrimination in the nation's capital, "Changing Landscapes in Southern Maryland" chronicles the memories of life in the region through 49 oral histories from longtime residents.

Their memories include stories about life in a Southern Maryland that, in some cases, no longer exists, including growing up in a lighthouse, long walks to school and what it took to make a living "following the water."

"The stories are both interesting and entertaining and provide a unique and very local perspective on how much our region had changed in the last 50 years," said Sharan Marshall, director of the Southern Maryland Regional Library Association, which released the book in November, in celebration of the organization's 50th anniversary.

Calvert County residents whose stories are in the book include former county commissioner Wilson Parran, Clara Mae Buckmaster, Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell (R-Calvert) of Lusby, MacArthur Jones and Sheriff Mike Evans (R).

The regional library association worked with StoryCorps, a national nonprofit group that collaborated with National Public Radio and the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress to collect many of the oral histories in the book.

It also includes stories collected by the Accokeek Foundation, the Calvert County Historic District Commission, the Calvert Marine Museum, St. Clement's Island Museum, the St. Mary's County government and the Unified Committee for Afro-American Contributions.

The project took about two years to finish, said Victoria Falcon, public relations and marketing coordinator for the Southern Maryland Regional Library Association.

It costs the association, which is primarily funded by the state, about $10,000. StoryCorps did its part for free.

The association took nominations from nonprofit organizations in the community to decide whom to invite to participate in the StoryCorps recordings. In addition, Falcon contacted other organizations that had oral history collections to request submissions that would "balance out" the histories they already had - ensuring that Calvert, Charles and St. Mary's counties were represented equally.

"They were looking for people to interview, and I knew that the subject was 'Changing Landscapes,' and I know that I'm a part of that, and I asked if they would consider me," O'Donnell said.

O'Donnell, 49, recounts the time he spent in Southern Maryland as a child and visiting a brother who was a sailor stationed at Patuxent River Naval Air Station.

He also talked about moving to Calvert County when he was offered a position at the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant, as well as about his journey to become an elected official. During the course of O'Donnell's life, Calvert County has grown from a sleepy farming community with a 1960 U.S. Census-estimated population of 15,826, to a prosperous county of 89,212 residents in 2009, according to Maryland Department of Planning.

For Parran, 59, the stories he shared about growing up as a sharecropper in Huntingtown still are close at hand - he lives about two miles from the farm where he grew up.

He also discussed his 1965 transition from the segregated Brooks High School to integrated Calvert High School, when he was in 10th grade.

"When I made that transfer, I guess I thought I was going to a better school with a better education, but I didn't skip a beat," Parran said. "I was not behind, which indicates to me that the [segregated] schools in Calvert County were about equal."

Buckmaster, of Chesapeake Beach, spoke of a life lived entirely between North Beach and Chesapeake Beach.

At 73, Buckmaster has returned to live in her childhood home.

"I'm not always happy with the influx [of new residents], but if there were not the progress and construction my children would not be able to live so close, and the community is more diverse, today," Buckmaster said.

Buckmaster's portion of the book covers her childhood, during which she worked at the local bingo hall at age 13, and the time she spent raising six children alone after her husband died suddenly at age 37 in 1970.

"I raised six children by myself, with the help of the Lord and love," Buckmaster said.

Buckmaster first supported her children by babysitting in her home, with the help of family, local churches and friends.

When her youngest child entered kindergarten in 1973, she took a part-time position with the Calvert County Health Department; she transitioned to full-time employment in 1975, when her oldest children were able to help care for their siblings.

Although the oral history project was selected as a way to celebrate the regional library's anniversary and to make local oral histories accessible to everyone in the community, "our hope would be to bring people together and spark discussion," Falcon said.

Copies of "Changing Landscapes in Southern Maryland" are not available for sale. However, multiple copies are available in Southern Maryland libraries and were made available to the region's public and private schools. Copies also were distributed to all public library systems in Maryland.

scraton@somdnews.com cbasham@somdnews.com

The book also is available as a downloadable PDF file through the online library catalog, www.cosmos.somd.lib.md.us . Excerpts from the interviews are available online at www.mdch.org .

 
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