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Preserving the history Marguerite Doleman collected

July 02, 2008

Marguerite Doleman didn't set out to create a museum of African-American history. In 1974, a student from North Hagerstown High School asked her to put together a display for Black History Week.

"It was only supposed to be for two weeks," said her son, Charles "Sonny" Doleman.

But there was an appetite for history within the black community. And so what had begun as a small exhibit on the Doleman family's dining room table began to grow to fill her Locust Street home.

Her son, who used a basement room as a playroom, was asked to give it up so she could store more things temporarily. He never got it back.

The collection was on display this past Saturday, June 28, from 2 to 4 p.m., at a reception held by the museum's board and Councilwoman Alesia Parson-McBean.

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Kathleen Maher, the City of Hagerstown's Planning Director, said the group, which received its nonprofit status in April, hopes to move the collection to a more appropriate location.

"With a museum, there would be more even climate control," Maher said.

And, Doleman said, it would be much more convenient for visitors. When his parents were still living, both were retired and could schedule tours with a lot of flexibility.

Now, Doleman said, with family members working schedules that sometimes change at the last minute, it's tough to tell would-be visitors when they can see the collection.

He didn't say it, but because much of the collection is in the basement, it's not handicapped-accessible.

To get the project rolling, Maher said the group has obtained a Maryland Heritage Grant to do an assessment of the collection.

Developer Vincent Groh, who attended the event, has been approached about possibly donating some space. Groh said he's waiting to hear what the terms of any grant will say about where the museum must be located.

Del. John Donoghue, D-Washington County, also attended and pledged his support.

The breadth of the collection is truly amazing. There are old photographic portraits of people once prominent in the black community, copies of obituaries and handbills from appearances of black leaders such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

There are old oil lamps and cooking utensils once owned by local black families and many, many ceramic and wooden figures, some of which show African-Americans as noble and some which are insulting representations of black people. Offensive it might be, but in her eyes, it was history nonetheless.

Marguerite Doleman's wish, according to the museum's board, was that the collection stay intact and that no club or organization take it over and put its name on it.

If you believe that such history is important and you'd like to learn more, contact the board by calling 1-800-807-3209, or send an e-mail to

dolemanbhm@yahoo.com.

One dedicated lady spent years preserving what she felt should not be lost. If you can help carry out her mission, please do.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail.

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