The mementos are scattered throughout Philip Brown's small white house in Annapolis: Black-and-white photographs hang on the walls, yellowed newspaper clippings are stacked on the bookshelves, old school bills and letters are tucked carefully inside folders.
The items span 90 years and chronicle Brown's struggles to overcome poverty and discrimination, in times when opportunities were few for African Americans and every success marked a milestone.
Each recalls a chapter in Brown's 90 years of life and marks his journey to educate himself and pass along that knowledge to generations of black children who followed him.
They are the basis of the history he is working to preserve, about places in Anne Arundel County where he and other African Americans lived, learned and worshiped, building futures for themselves and their descendants.
Brown's personal history parallels the county's evolution from a rural, segregated society to a community where every public school is open to children of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.
His lifelong pursuit of learning began at Stanton Elementary, a 12-room schoolhouse where black students studied from secondhand textbooks handed down by white schools and only nine of the 27 students who entered first grade with Brown graduated.
But it was also a school in which tardiness and absenteeism weren't tolerated and students were expected to work diligently at their lessons.
"You couldn't hide or hope the teacher wouldn't call on you," Brown recalled. "If you weren't there, they would miss you."
It was at Stanton that Brown decided to become a teacher. While professional opportunities at that time were limited for African Americans, Brown knew that he could help other black children find a better future by giving them an education.
So after graduating from high school, Brown earned an Elementary School Teachers Certificate from Bowie Normal School in 1928.
He began working at a two-room schoolhouse in Annapolis as both principal and head teacher, handling all the administrative duties while also teaching classes.
There he met another young teacher, Rachel Hall, who also had gone to Bowie. Together they developed lesson plans and taught pupils and, once classes dismissed each day, they cleaned the schoolhouse.
In 1932, Phil Brown and Rachel Hall decided to marry.
But since that was against school policy, Hall had to move to another school to teach. From then on, both at school and at home, they would work to find ways to improve education opportunities and careers for black teachers and students.
In the late 1930s, the couple began attending Morgan State College part time, at night and during the summer, earning their bachelor's degrees in 1947. Determined to continue their educations, in 1954 they began driving to New York to attend graduate classes at New York University because the University of Maryland did not accept black students.
Both earned their master's degrees in 1955.
For most of his life, Brown had lived in a segregated society and it did not faze him--until he and Rachel had children.
Brown remembers his youngest son ran home excited one day after learning that a new movie theater was being built in town. Months later, when the theater opened, his son began to push Brown and his wife to take him to the movies.
"He was all dressed to go," Brown said. "And we had to explain to him that we couldn't go--it was white only. He threw a tantrum. He couldn't understand it."
But segregation only strengthened Brown's resolve as a educator. When he learned white teachers were paid more than black teachers in Annapolis--he made $941 a year, while his white counterparts made $1,300--Brown took steps to change that.
He, Rachel and several other black teachers decided to sue the school board for equal pay. And they succeeded, with the help of a young lawyer friend named Thurgood Marshall.
Years have gone by, and Brown has watched the county change for blacks. Schools are no longer segregated, and African Americans can eat and shop anywhere they'd like.
But looking back over nearly a century, Brown fears some of the things that helped build a sense of community are slipping away.
He recalls a community in which black children were disciplined by any adult who caught them acting up. A community in which blacks ate together at restaurants and worshiped together at church. A community that rallied to make sure black students were properly educated to go on to college and then to a professional career.
Today, Brown spends time every day sorting through his photographs, clippings, old letters and mementos, working to preserve them as a kind of lesson plan for future generations.
Already, he has self-published one book of photos illustrating the history of black Annapolis; he wrote and self-published another book about the city's education system for blacks. He's worked to preserve the old segregation-era school buildings and other sites that played important parts in black Annapolitans' lives.
And now, he's working on a new book about a local church that he has attended his entire life.
"As I watched more and more of my peers get older and die off, I wanted to preserve these records so that people could see what it was like," Brown said. It "gives us a means of comparing the present with the past so we can get a feel for whether there is progress being made or not."