Freedom's Classroom

From Reconstruction to
Brown vs Board of Education
1874 - 1954
The Schools at Clinton & Rosaryville

To be a slave at Poplar Hill at the time of the Civil War must have filled a mother or father with a sense of excitement so palpable you could almost touch it. Freedom was within arms reach. The distance between Poplar Hill and the District of Columbia was approximately ten miles. Prince George's County bordered the eastern and southern end of the District and the presence of Union troops in the region must have felt like being on the verge of something so powerful, that slaves once fearful of running, took off. Union troops camped at a small chapel in an area we know today as Andrews Air Force Base. They found families changed together in jail at the courthouse in Upper Marlboro, their owners having left them there to prevent them from running away. At Anacostia, refugees reaching Union camps in the District of Columbia must have felt the weight of centuries lifted from their hearts. The coming of the War Between the States for free white people may have represented all the tragedy that war brings with it, but for African-Americans it brought something long denied them. Maryland may have been the "middle ground" for the planters and free white population, but for the slave, the ground probably shook with possibilities. It was their time, even if emancipation was not yet declared for slaves living in the Border States.

The members of the planter family at Poplar Hill were an educated and affluent people. The Darnalls, Sewells, and Daingerfields all came from wealthy Catholic families whose influence in the region was long and deeply felt. At the time of the 1860 census, Henry Daingerfield (who managed Poplar Hill in trust for his daughters Ellen and Susan) was recorded as managing a population of more than 120 slaves.

In 1853, the inventory of Robert Darnall Sewall recorded more than 160 slaves at Poplar Hill and at two other farms, belong to the Sewall. Likewise, the 1850 census recorded 165 slaves.

By the time of the 1870 census, only a few families are recorded as remaining at Poplar Hill. They include that of Henry Brown, Robert Adams, and Charles Jackson, among others. Today, we don't know why those families remained. We can make certain guesses based on general historical research. Whatever the case may have been, Freedom was going to mean many things for the families that remained behind and carved out lives in an area that was both Confederate in sympathy, and slow in recognizing the rights of Freedmen as equal citizens.

In spite of those obstacles, the African-Americans in this community we now call "Clinton" grew out of the determination of those families to survive, to succeed, and to sustain a living in the home area of their American experience. Aside from securing a place to live, finding work, and maintaining hope through worship, securing an education for their children was of paramount importance.

This section of the Web site means to offer a glimpse of what one community did to bring educational opportunity to their families. In honor of the 50th Anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, we bring to you this section of the Poplar Hill Web site, which we have titled, "Freedom's Classroom"