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Fighting to learn: Former "freedmen's" school in Harford County teams up with Smithsonian transcription project

This is a composite graphic of a record from the Freedmen's Bureau Records – a print of officers and formerly enslaved persons in the Freedmen's Bureau Office in Memphis, Tennessee.
Posted at 12:25 PM, Apr 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-30 13:35:46-04

DARLINGTON, Md. — A month before the Civil War formally ended, a 20-year-old Black woman and prolific writer named Edmonia Highgate came from upstate New York to Harford County to launch a school for former slaves.

It became one of three Freedmen's Bureau schools in Harford County - free schools created by Congress in 1865 to "help formerly enslaved people transition from slavery to freedom and citizenship."

Now Highgate's experiences at the Harford County school will become part of the Smithsonian, thanks to the National Museum of African American History & Culture's new transcription project.

The Hosanna School Museum, in Darlington, is collaborating on the project, which will transcribe records revealing untold stories of the African-American experience during the post-Civil War and Reconstruction eras, the museum said in a press release.

More than 1.7 million records were created by the national Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands - the so-called "Freedmen's Bureau" - between 1865 and 1872, says the Hosanna School Museum. Only 2% of the 95,000 entries on the National Register of Historic Places focus on the African American experience, founder and CEO of the Virtual Reality Collaboration Lab (VRCOLAB), in a press release.

VRCOLAB worked with Hosanna School Museum to create scans of the museum for the immersive 3-D virtual reality experience for the transcribers.

The University of Maryland just held a Freedmen's Bureau "Transcribe-a-Thon" to help get the stories preserved.

Dr. Iris Leigh Barnes, executive director of the Hosanna School Museum, said in a statement: “While laws changed during this time, promises often rang hollow as teachers and students were attacked for simply trying to improve conditions for African Americans. Many churches that housed schools were burned to the ground to keep African Americans from achieving an education. By working to transcribe these records, more stories and more of our history will be revealed.”

For more information on the Hosanna School Museum, click here.