Chestertown, MD, January 11, 2007 — Elizabeth Clay, a Washington College junior from Bethesda, Md., has been awarded the school's prestigious 2007 Frederick Douglass Fellowship.
Now in its third year, the Frederick Douglass Fellowship supports work in African-American studies and related areas. The fellowship, which provides an annual grant of up to $1500 to a Washington College sophomore or junior and a $500 honorarium to a faculty mentor paired with the student, is administered through the College's C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience.
"The members of the Douglass Fellowship selection committee were very impressed with Elizabeth's proposal to continue her ongoing research into the activities of the federal Freedmen's Bureau in Kent County after the Civil War," said Adam Goodheart, Hodson Trust-Griswold Director of the Starr Center. "It's a great example of how students at Washington College can study local history to shed new light on important chapters of our national story."
Clay's initial investigations into the topic resulted in the publication of her piece "Black Patriots on the Eastern Shore" in the anthology Here on the Chester: Washington College Remembers Old Chestertown (Literary House Press, 2006). "Her work has already demonstrated the rich and untapped potential of the National Archives' holdings in illuminating the experiences of local African-Americans as they made the difficult transition from slavery to freedom," Goodheart said. "Her research is truly taking her into unexplored historical territory."
"I am very honored to have been chosen for the fellowship," said Clay. "I'm looking forward to doing the research and hopefully being able to contribute something worthwhile about the subject."
As she continues to delve into a hitherto largely overlooked chapter of the region's past, Clay's efforts will be guided by her chosen faculty mentor, Dr. Carol Wilson, Associate Professor of History. Dr. Wilson, who also serves as Director of the Gender Studies program, is the author of Freedom at Risk: The Kidnapping of Free Blacks in America, 1780-1865(University Press of Kentucky, 1994), and, forthcoming in 2007 from Rutgers University Press,The Two Lives of Sally Miller: A Case of Mistaken Racial Identity in Antebellum New Orleans.
"Kent County's African-American history has been coming to light in recent years, in part because of the work of Washington College students like Elizabeth Clay," said Dr. Wilson. "What we're beginning to see is a much more nuanced picture than most people probably were aware of—not just slaves toiling endlessly on plantations, but also slaves escaping, free blacks owning land and running businesses, people forming their own viable communities. What African-Americans did after the end of slavery is one of the less-studied subjects in this region. By examining the Freedmen's Bureau records, Elizabeth's research is helping to create a vibrant picture of Kent's postwar black community."
The Douglass Fellowship was established through a generous gift from Maurice Meslans and Margaret Holyfield of St. Louis. Topics pertaining to—in the words of the donors—other "minority American" fields (Asian-American studies, gay and lesbian studies, Latino studies, etc.) also are considered.
The author, activist and diplomat Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), for whom the fellowship was named, was born in Talbot County, Md., about 30 miles south of Washington College, and retained a deep attachment to the Eastern Shore until the end of his life.
"I think the Douglass Fellowship is important because it gives students the opportunity to look into subjects in African-American history that otherwise might not be explored," said Clay. "And I am excited to be a part of it!"