Family working to exhibit mother's black history collection in museum

February 16, 2008|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN -- The family and friends of the late Marguerite Doleman, who founded and for many years operated an African-American museum in her North Locust Street home, are trying to acquire a building in Hagerstown to house her collection for the public to enjoy.

Charles "Sonny" Doleman, Marguerite's son, said the Doleman Black Heritage Museum would feature artifacts that his mother collected from African-American homes in Washington County over a number of decades.

Marguerite died in 2000 at the age of 79. Over the course of her life, she amassed thousands of items, including slave bills of sale, mid-19th-century quilts that former slaves made to commemorate their freedom and more than 100 buttons that portray Civil Rights leaders from Malcolm X to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The Herald-Mail's archives show that more than 600 people had visited her home as of February 1987 to see the collection.


"Once she started collecting, it just kind of snowballed," Doleman said earlier this week. "She held on to pretty much a little bit of everything ...

I'd like to get (the collection) into a location where the public can see it."

The Doleman Black Heritage Museum recently received a $15,000 grant from the Maryland Heritage Area Authority to hire a professional to assess the collection. On Jan. 29, the Hagerstown City Council approved a motion to match the grant, which increased the total funding to $30,000.

Doleman said professional knowledge is needed to keep some of the older items, such as clothing, documents and the quilts, from deteriorating.

"This needs a little more care than just sitting in the basement," he said.

Among the most important pieces in the collection are obituaries, Doleman said. Several African-Americans in Washington County have traced their family backgrounds using information from the death notices.

Doleman said the collection also contains an original "Jocko" statue, or lawn jockey. Many people believe the statues are racist without knowing the story behind them, he said.

Doleman said that, as the story goes, Jocko was an African-American child who held a lamp on the bank of the Delaware River so Gen. George

Washington's troops could find their way back after attacking a Hessian force in New Jersey. Upon their return, they found that Jocko had frozen to death holding the lantern. Washington was so touched by Jocko's act of patriotism that the general had Jocko immortalized as a statue.

His mother often told the story of Jocko to educate people about the positive contributions that African-Americans made to American history, Doleman said.

"People said they didn't like it, but my mother always said, 'You have to deal with the good and the bad,'" Doleman said. "It was all a part of history."

Ideally, Doleman said, he and the nine other members on the board of the Doleman Black Heritage Museum would like to establish a nonprofit organization to acquire the museum. The board would like to loan some of the items for public viewing.

"It would be a good way to let people know what we have," he said.

  • Anyone interested in contributing to the Doleman Black Heritage Museum may call Janice Kelsh at 301-797-7675.

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