WC partners with Sumner Hall for read-in

By Jon Vitale

Elm Staff Writer

Last Tuesday, Chestertown played host to the National African-American Read-In, as part of Black History Month. Community members, children and adults alike, were invited to Sumner Hall to deliver public readings of their favorite pieces of African-American literature. e event was attended by 46 individuals.

In the first part of the event, the literature that was read was family-friendly and geared toward children and young adults. Then, a brief dinner was served before the adult literature portion of the program began.

Sumner Hall, located on South Queen Street, is a historic Chestertown landmark that holds changing museum exhibits, with a par- ticular focus on African-American history. It was built as a Civil War veterans hall for African-American veterans, one of only two such establishments still standing in the United States. While all of the veterans who built the hall are gone, today it stands as a testament to not only them, but to the greater history of African-American people.

is read-in was a community outreach event, sponsored by the Washington College Department of Education, the WC Black studies program, the Kent County Public Library, and Sumner Hall. It was intended to involve people in the history and culture of African-American people through literature. David Foster, a Chestertown town council member and Sumner Hall member, was captivated by a particular reading and reflected on it.

“One of the readers talking about a childhood experience, about having been given a doll. It was a Shirley Temple doll. She was a black girl, and people had expected that she would be overjoyed; It was a blonde doll, blue eyes, white skin, and that was not what she wanted,” Foster said.

Foster said he found the story powerful in its simplicity, a key example of how even the littlest of things can have a greater effect on making a person, in this case a child, feel alienated from her own environment.

In addition, Foster was able to connect with the story personally, saying it hearkened back to his days in Peace Corps Training in Louisiana, where he was in a historically black community. ere he was able to interact with African-American children and picked up on divisions between racial communities. On one occasion, he interacted with a young girl who asked if she could feel his hair.

“She asked if she could, because she had never felt a white person’s hair before, and when she did, she told me she had baby doll hair. I never understood what she meant by that until I heard that reading, and now it makes a lot more sense to me.”

Although many of the readings that were delivered were personalized pieces like the one Foster connected with, they were intended to be relatable to everyone.

“I think that what they do here is really try to tell the stories,” Foster said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *