Bowie State History Professor Receives Grant to Fund Underserved History Projects

By Jonathan Saxon

A Bowie State University history professor doesn’t want Maryland’s history to be forgotten. Associate professor Dr. Karen Cook-Bell will use a $150,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation to support micro-history projects focused on documenting the lived experiences of the African American community of Tolson’s Chapel, located in Sharpsburg, MD. The project is sponsored by Bowie State’s Dubois Center for the Study of the Black Experience.

Sharpsburg was the site of the Battle of Antietam, which is credited as the Civil War’s deadliest one-day battle. In 1866, a chapel was constructed on land donated by an African American couple which would go on to serve as one the earliest schools for former slaves.

“We’re taking a look at this historic community that existed after the Civil War and looking at how they supported and sustained themselves for over a century,” said Dr. Cook-Bell.

The two-year grant will fund hiring ten local community fellows to help research public records and interview members of the Tolson’s Chapel community, as well as the creation of a digital archive and art exhibit. Funds will also support similar projects in Montgomery County and allow for cooperative work with the African Cemetery Coalition.

“We hope to demonstrate how African Americans were in self-supportive, independent communities that thrived in spite of a hostile society,” said Dr. Cook-Bell.

The grant will also support the launch of two new publications for the Dubois Center, Freedom and Valiantas forums for scholarly discourse. Freedom will be a platform for scholars to share research related to the Black lived experience across the diaspora, while Valiant will serve as an avenue for undergraduate students to showcase their writings on the African American experience.