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Memorial Episcopal Church removes plaques from founders who own slaves

Much has been said about the institutions and businesses that do their part to fight racism. A church in West Baltimore begins a journey to understand its past and atone for the men and women enslaved by their founding rectors and families. The Memorial Episcopal Church began its journey in 2017. It wasn’t until one of its current leaders revealed that his own family had been enslaved that their efforts gained momentum. “I think about the resilience of my parents, how they survived with work and work,” said Reverend Natalie Conway, deacon of Memorial Episcopal Church in Bolton Hill. Cromwell, was enslaved at Hampton National Historic Site, formerly Hampton Plantation in Towson, off Dulaney Valley Road. “They called her Hattie, and when she was taken in 1828 she had a one-year-old son with her who was able to. Anyone 2 years and older had to stay here,” Conway said. no one up to age 35 – in other words, those who could work – had to stay. Conway learned of her family connection to the plantation two years ago, as she and her brother were reviewing their genealogy. that family members, the Cromwells, were among the 450 slaves who worked on the plantation. This led to an ‘a-ha’ moment. “I was sitting at the back of the church on one of the benches that if I looked up, I could see the plaques, and the plaques were dedicated to Charles Ridgely Howard, and I was like, ‘Oh, my God,’ “said Conway.” Charles Ridgely Howard was the founding rector of Memorial. His mother, Sophia Ridgely, was born here as Charles. Sophia married James Howard. They lived here in Hampton Plantation, ”said Reverend Gray Maggiano, rector of Memorial Episcopal Church. Sophia Ridgely donated $ 5,000 for the construction of the church. Maggiano asked Conway to share his story with the congregation. “I encouraged her to tell their story because I knew it would be the thing that would drive this change, not only in our church, but in the diocese, but in the city,” Maggiano said Conway opened up to the church. She and members of the congregation held a healing ceremony at the Hampton site. And later church leaders and members talked about what was hanging on the back of the church. In June 2020, a unanimous decision was made to remove the plaques in honor of Charles Ridgely Howard. “You have to keep the story, but I don’t think the story of what was done here should be in a place of peace,” Conway said. The plaques were placed outside the church, but the scars of the past remain. Memorial now takes a close look at its own history. He launched a five-year repair initiative by committing $ 100,000 per year. “This is going to focus on organizations and individuals who work in four areas of western Baltimore in our zip code, where we have been responsible for damages,” Conway said Conway is active in making it happen. Yet she is amazed to have walked through this plantation for years and it is her faith that has finally brought her face to face with her past. “I want to imagine people, what they were doing, how they were doing it,” Conway said.

Much has been said about the institutions and businesses that do their part to fight racism. A church in West Baltimore begins a journey to understand its past and atone for the men and women enslaved by their founding rectors and families.

The Memorial Episcopal Church began its journey in 2017. It wasn’t until one of its current leaders revealed that his own family had been enslaved that their efforts gained momentum.

“I think about the resilience of my parents, how they survived with work and work,” said Reverend Natalie Conway, deacon of Memorial Episcopal Church in Bolton Hill.

Conway said he discovered that his great-great-grandmother, Harriett Cromwell, had been enslaved at Hampton National Historic Site, formerly Hampton Plantation in Towson, near Dulaney Valley Road.

“They called her Hattie, and when she was taken in 1828 she had a one-year-old son with her who was able to accompany her. Every 2+ years had to stay here, ”said Conway.

Anyone up to 35 – in other words, those who could work – had to stay. Conway learned of her family connection to the plantation two years ago, as she and her brother were reviewing their genealogy. They discovered that members of their family, the Cromwells, were among the 450 slaves who worked on the plantation. This led to an “a-ha” moment.

“I was sitting at the back of the church on one of the pews that if I looked up I could see the plaques, and the plaques were dedicated to Charles Ridgely Howard, and I was like, ‘Oh , my God, ‘”said Conway.

“Charles Ridgely Howard was the founding rector of Memorial. His mother, Sophia Ridgely, was born here, as was Charles. Sophia married James Howard. They lived here at the Hampton Plantation, ”said Reverend Gray Maggiano, rector of Memorial Episcopal Church.

Sophia Ridgely donated $ 5,000 for the construction of the church. Maggiano asked Conway to share his story with the congregation.

“I encouraged her to tell their story because I knew it would be the thing that would drive this change, not only within our church, but in the diocese, but in the city,” said Maggiano.

Conway opened up to church. She and members of the congregation held a healing ceremony at the Hampton site. And later church leaders and members talked about what was hanging on the back of the church. In June 2020, a unanimous decision was made to remove the plaques in honor of Charles Ridgely Howard.

“You have to keep the story, but I don’t think the story of what was done here should be in a place of peace,” Conway said.

The plaques were placed outside the church, but the scars of the past remain. Memorial now takes a close look at its own history. He launched a five-year repair initiative committing $ 100,000 per year.

“This is going to focus on the organizations and individuals who work in four areas of western Baltimore in our zip code, where we have been responsible for damages,” Conway said.

Conway is active in making this happen. Yet she is amazed to have walked through this plantation for years and it is her faith that has finally brought her face to face with her past.

“I want to imagine people, what they were doing, how they were doing it,” Conway said.

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