Deborah Young brought her father’s old wool baseball uniform from the days when he played sandlot ball for the Scotland Eagles. It was in good shape, except for a few holes that could have been caused by sliding into bases.
Sheila Credle brought the elegant oval photograph that is believed to be of her great-grandfather, who looked prosperous in jacket and tie when the portrait was taken in the late 1800s. He was probably a former slave, but she was not sure.
And Ursula Cain-Jordan brought in the Cain family Bible, with recorded births back to 1813 and a gallery of exquisite tintype photographs of ancestors whose names are long forgotten.
The three were among dozens of African Americans who came to the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. on Saturday for an “Antiques Roadshow”-style event hosted by the society and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.
The idea was for people to bring in their heirlooms to be assessed — and in some cases identified. Experts then explained how best to care for them and provided archival-quality packaging.
The museum program, “Save Our African American Treasures,” has traveled to more than a dozen cities across the country since 2008.
James A. Gordon, a museum spokesman, said this weekend’s event — which continues Sunday — might be the last as experts focus on the official opening of the museum, scheduled for next year.
The program was developed by museum director Lonnie Bunch “as a way to inform people that the things that they have in their attics, closets and hope chests . . . could be a significant part of African American history,” Gordon said at the society Saturday.
“We have to learn how to, first of all, recognize that they’re history and then how to preserve them and keep them for future generations,” he said
There were many treasures.
Adele Sadler Johnson, 74, brought in the silver trophy cup that her grandfather, George W. Adams, won at a track meet in 1900. He was a stellar athlete, she said, and the first black graduate of Philadelphia’s historic Roman Catholic High School.
Anthony Ferrell of Temple Hills, Md., had, among other things, a family photo album and a ringside ticket to the 1948 Joe Louis-Jersey Joe Walcott heavyweight championship boxing match at Yankee Stadium.
And Rochelle Harrison, an Anacostia collector of “j-u-n-q-u-e,” brought in an object made of wood and metal that looked like a small catapult but defied identification.
“We have no idea what it is,” said Bill Pretzer, senior history curator at the museum. “We call it ‘stump the curator.’ They have succeeded in stumping the curator.”
In 1954, Deborah Young’s father, Dennis, played shortstop for the Eagles, a baseball team based in the historic African American enclave of Scotland, Md., in Montgomery County.
Her mother had saved his spiffy uniform and passed it on to her. It was light gray with the word “Eagles” in dark blue on the front and his number — “16” — on the back. The pants had dark-blue belt loops.
She also had his old mitt, cleats and gym bag. He played shortstop. He died in 1997 at the age of 66.
“He was the best shortstop in Montgomery County,” said Young, who lives in Lanham, Md. “They used to say, ‘Don’t hit the ball to the shortstop, cause Dennis will grab it up.’ He was a great player,” she said.
There were some holes in the front of the shirt that had been patched, and there were some stains on the pants.
“But it’s okay,” Renee Anderson, a textile expert and the museum’s head of collections, said as she examined it. Maybe the holes came from sliding into base and the stains from playing.
“It shouldn't look pristine,” she said. “There should be some stains. There should be some red clay.”
Sheila Credle, 66, of Southeast Washington, brought the photo of Jefferson Mayfield, a man she thought was probably her great-grandfather.
“I’m very proud of this picture,” she said. “I want to continue to preserve it. I want to know what I have to do. You see, its coming apart, and I don’t want to do anything to damage it. That why I’m here today.”
The portrait had been subtly colorized and had a tattered frame and backing and a frail hanging wire.
“I love history,” she said. “And when I started tracing [ancestors] I didn’t know, it just sends chills. Because now you know where your roots are. It’s a good feeling.”
The big family Bible that Ursula Cain-Jordan brought in looked extremely fragile. The backing had come loose, and the front cover did not seem attached. But inside was a treasure of family history.
Cain-Jordan, an artist who lives in the Baltimore County community of Baldwin, said she was not sure how old it was, but it contained “written records of births and deaths . . . going back to 1813,” she said. She used it to create a family tree.
Also inside, on pages labeled “Family Portraits,” were old metal photos of African American men and women clad in their Sunday best. They were dressed in the fashions of the late 1800s. But none were identified.
“They’re Cains,” she said. “They’re family members. But I don’t know individually” who they are. “They didn’t put any names on.”
As experts fussed over her artifacts, they produced a special box for the Bible and tied it closed with a ribbon of white cloth.
“I’m glad I came,” Cain-Jordan said. “Everybody's so excited about what I have. I didn’t know that this was such a big deal.”