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Lawmakers see artifacts for black heritage museum in Hagerstown

April 25, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

HAGERSTOWN -- U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin on Saturday voiced strong support for the Doleman Black Heritage Museum project, but cautioned obtaining additional funding will take creativity and multiple sources amid tough economic times.

"We've got to get this thing done," Cardin said as he and Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, and Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, toured the home of the late Marguerite Doleman at 540 N. Locust St., which is filled with thousands of artifacts collected over the years.

"This is a wonderful way for people to appreciate history -- no question," Cardin said.

Escorted through the residence by Charles "Sonny" Doleman, Marguerite's son, the lawmakers were told they only were seeing the "Reader's Digest version" of the collection, which includes china from the Harmon Hotel, which was the city's black-only lodging business off Jonathan Street. Baseball great Willie Mays was forced to stay there, apart from his white teammates when he played his first professional game in the New York Giants' minor league system in June 1950.

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Supporters of the museum project hope to be able to acquire and refurbish a building in the heart of Hagerstown's historically black neighborhood for a more preservation-friendly setting to display the venerable artifacts.

"(Donoghue) and I were able to get $25,000 out of the General Assembly this year ..." Munson told Cardin of the state bond funding the lawmakers obtained for property acquisition and planning and design work.

Donoghue told Cardin that he and Munson hoped to work with the senator to try to get support for the project from the Atlanta center dedicated to the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

In one room, Cardin was shown mural-like scenes on original wallpaper that depict slaves picking cotton on a Southern plantation, the workers hauling the cotton to a steamboat, the slave owner's mansion and the master and his wife riding in a carriage, among other scenes.

Given the romanticized imagery, Donoghue speculated the original owners of the home, which was built in the late 1920s, were Confederate sympathizers. Supporters of the project would like to have the wallpaper replicated at the museum's future site.

Doleman said his family was the first to move out of the city's historically black neighborhood, which was mapped in the 1960s as an area about two blocks wide and five blocks long.

Cardin seemed impressed with what he saw.

"This is a unique collection ... some of these items are priceless," Cardin said after the tour. "It also allows us to touch history and to understand a different time when we lived in segregated communities and I think it's important for young people to understand that and this collection makes that possible."

"To find funding, we're going to have to be creative," Cardin said. "These are tough times, but this is something that we have to be able to figure out how to do it."

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