A love of area history culminated in “Mulatto: The Black History of Calvert County Maryland” by author Michael Kent, which was published in April.
The 118-page book, which took Kent 20 years to write, details life as it was for slaves and traces the movements and accomplishments of both prominent and less prominent Calvert County citizens.
“We always knew the oral history, and I’d been listening to things people had said over the years, so I just decided at some point to just see if what they were saying was true and find the documents and it just grew on its own,” Kent said of the book, which he added is a culmination of several projects. “After so many years, I had so many things people said they wanted to see it in writing. I’d go to events and tell stories like those that were told to me and people would say, ‘You need to write this down.’”
“Michael Kent is a great resource for local history in Calvert County, and we’re pleased to have his book in our collection and available for our community,” said Calvert Library public relations coordinator Robyn Truslow. “On a happy side note, I understand that he even had assistance from some of our librarians in the technical side of putting a book together.”
In the book’s forward, Kent writes that the book is intended to “convey a double meaning. The goal is to relate the history of people of color in Calvert County and also illustrate the darkness of the times.” Kent, who is in his second term as President of the NAACP’s Calvert County Chapter, said he chose the book’s title because the history of the county is so intermingled.
“Because that’s essentially what Calvert County is,” he said. “It’s always been about half black, half white. There was a lot of inter-racial baby-making during that time so you had a lot of mullatos. If you look at the census, just as much as it says black and white, it’s going to say mullato.”
Kent, who knows the history of his family dating back to 1780, adds that the book highlights the opportunities blacks had to leave the county, and why most chose to stay.
Kent’s book is thorough and includes precise dates and facts, many of which he gleaned from various sources such as state archives, some churches — many lost valuable records when they burned down — and a lot of poking and prodding.
“It was just talking to people; a lot of them keep their records in their homes, particularly in their Bibles,” Kent said. “When my mother, Viola, and father, Daniel, began to age more, I would have to drive them around to see their friends, and instead of sitting there and being bored I’d ask to see records and pictures, and I got a lot of information that way.”
Kent writes about how slaves arrived in Maryland and Virginia in 1700 and 1766, and their roles and everyday life.
Kent explains that in 1841 slaves were sold for anywhere from $75 to $525 and that men aged 21 to 30 and women aged 14 to 35 were particularly prized.
He also goes into depth about the life of prominent county slaves, Charles Ball, who would go on to write “Fifty Years in Chains,” and Isaac Brown, who was convicted of shooting his owner despite the fact he was three miles away at the time of the incident.
Kent also includes numerous charts, images and historical documents.
He also includes a chapter on 21 black Calvert County veterans and the roles they played in the military.
These include Leroy Berry, who was one of the last people to graduate from Central Colored High School in Prince Frederick. He became an embalmer, served as a medic in World War II and now, at age 92, is the elder pastor at Church of God in Christ in Lusby.
Then there’s the story of Malcolm G. Freeland, who was among the first to reach the beach at Normandy, France on D-Day and lost half his unit to land mines. He is now 87.
In Chapter VIII, Kent documents the contributions African Americans have made to the county’s infrastructure.
There’s Gray’s Field in Owings, which was home to the Owings Eagles in the Negro minor leagues from the 1930s to 1997 and helped launch the career of George Spriggs, an outfielder who played with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals.
Other landmarks include Christiana Parran Road in Sunderland, which is named for the woman who ran a post office and store after acquiring land and wealth, and Bowen’s Grocery, which was originally named “Mogck’s Store and would extend credit to blacks when most stores were unwilling. And Kings Landing Park, which served African American children during segregation, many of whom would be bussed in from Washington and Baltimore.
“There was very little [previous documentation] about how black life was like, how they started,” said Kent, who is currently leasing out the 40-acre farm that has been in the family since the 1850s. “And then to be able to come from slavery and not being able to read or write, and to start a church system, then a school system, then segregation then starting businesses and stores and farms.”
Kent, who is also involved in numerous groups and organizations, is working on his next book about the history of the NAACP in Maryland. He is hoping to release it early next year.
“Mulatto: The Black History of Calvert County Maryland” is available at the Calvert Historical Society, Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum, and www.amazon.com.