Harriet Tubman's role in the Underground Railroad is among the African American history to be mapped by the groundbreaking project. Photo: Maryland State Highway Administration

New Project to Map Bay’s African American History

For the first time, African American historic and cultural sites across all three Chesapeake Bay states will be documented to help protect them.

A new partnership between Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the National Park Service Chesapeake Bay will map and identify sites and landscapes in the watershed, so the states can fully consider these cultural sites when making land use or development plans.

The multi-state partnership will take on different pilot projects to gather baseline data on relevant sites and landscapes—data that will then be publicly available as cultural resource information. The project will be guided by “an advisory committee of professionals dedicated to preserving African American history.” The goal is to “tell a fuller American story.”

“While 18 million people live here, there are important sites and stories that have not received equal attention and need to be elevated and remembered. This partnership to document African American sites and landscapes is crucial to ensuring these places are honored and reflected in the Chesapeake and American stories,” says Wendy O’Sullivan, Superintendent of the National Park Service Chesapeake Bay.

From the Civil War and the Underground Railroad to the civil rights movement and the seafood industry, the Bay region holds significant meaning to African American culture.

“The role of the African American watermen in the development of the fisheries of the Chesapeake Bay, from oystering and crabbing to processing and boatbuilding, cannot be overstated. As many of the places associated with this legacy vanish from the landscape, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources welcomes the opportunity to document this important aspect of our region’s past,” says Julie V. Langan, Director of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. 

Preservationists say that historic sites importantant to people of color are widely underrepresented in conservation priorities, and this project is one small step to address that problem.

$200,000 in funding for the project comes from the National Park Service Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network, and the other half comes from Maryland Heritage Areas Authority, Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and Historical and Museum Commission, and the National Trust’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.

-Meg Walburn Viviano