Wednesday, March 11, 2009

C. Fraser Smith Presents 'Here Lies Jim Crow' at Washington College

Chestertown, MD — In the long struggle for African-American equality, Maryland often played a pivotal role, as C. Fraser Smith chronicles in an acclaimed new book. The author will explore these issues when he presents "Here Lies Jim Crow: Civil Rights in Maryland" at Washington College's Litrenta Lecture Hall on Monday, March 23, at 4:30 p.m. A booksigning will follow.

Smith will be in residence at Washington College from March 23-27 as this year's Frederick Douglass Visiting Fellow at the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience. One of Maryland's best known political commentators, Smith writes a weekly column for the Baltimore Sun and serves as senior news analyst for Baltimore's National Public Radio station, WYPR. In addition to Here Lies Jim Crow: Civil Rights in Maryland, he is the author of William Donald Schaefer: A Political Biography; both works are published by Johns Hopkins University Press.

Here Lies Jim Crow was met with accolades upon its 2008 release. "Hand it to your students ... and make sure their parents read it, too," enthused longtime Baltimore-based columnist Michael Olesker. "It's a road map of America's long political struggle from slavery to a black man running for president."

Established through a generous gift from Maurice Meslans and Margaret Holyfield of St. Louis, the annual Frederick Douglass Visiting Fellowship brings to campus an individual engaged in the study or interpretation of African-American history and related fields. Besides providing the recipient an opportunity for a week of focused writing, the fellowship also offers Washington College students exposure to some of today's leading interpreters of African-American culture. During his week in Chestertown, Smith will meet with students and faculty and speak to classes about his research, and his experiences covering Maryland politics.

From Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney's infamous decision in the Dred Scott case to Thurgood Marshall's eloquent and effective work on Brown v. Board of Education, the battle for black equality is very much the story of Maryland women and men. Smith's book chronicles the sweep of events through the stories, words, and deeds of famous, infamous, and little-known Marylanders.

He traces the roots of Jim Crow laws from Dred Scott to Plessy v. Ferguson and describes the parallel and opposite early efforts of those who struggled to establish freedom and basic rights for African-Americans.

Following the historical trail of evidence, Smith relates latter-day examples of Maryland residents who trod those same steps, from the thrice-failed attempt to deny black people the vote in the early 20th century to nascent demonstrations for open access to lunch counters, movie theaters, stores, golf courses and other public and private institutions—struggles that occurred decades before the now-celebrated historical figures strode onto the national civil rights scene.

Smith's lively account includes the grand themes and the state's major players in the movement—Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Thurgood Marshall and Lillie May Jackson, among others—and also tells the story of the struggle via several of Maryland's important but relatively unknown men and women—such as Gloria Richardson (a 2008 Washington College honorary degree recipient), John Prentiss Poe, William L. "Little Willie" Adams and Walter Sondheim—who prepared Jim Crow's grave and waited for the nation to deliver the body.

Litrenta Lecture Hall is located in the John S. Toll Science Center. Admission is free and open to the public.

About the C.V. Starr Center

The C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience explores our nation's history—and particularly the legacy of its Founding era—in innovative ways. Through educational programs, scholarship, and public outreach, and especially by supporting and fostering the art of written history, the Starr Center seeks to bridge the divide between past and present, and between the academic world and the public at large. From its base in the circa-1746 Custom House along Chestertown's colonial waterfront, the Center also serves as a portal onto a world of opportunities for Washington College students. Its guiding principle is that now more than ever, a wider understanding of our shared past is fundamental to the continuing success of America's democratic experiment. For more information on the Center, visit

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