Oxford celebrates the contributions of its African American citizens with a special exhibit, “Black Lives in Oxford,” on display now through the end of November. Mounted on a quilt-like background, reminiscent of the quilts hung as messages on the Underground Railroad, the window exhibit shares photographs and stories of many of the town’s black citizens and recounts their history in the community.
From the town’s very beginning in the late 1680s, free and enslaved black people have played a critical role in Oxford’s growth and success. Starting out as slaves on the area’s tobacco plantations, many migrated to farming and general labor after the Revolutionary War all but ended trade with Britain, while others were sold into slavery in the Deep South. During the Civil War, many blacks served in the Union army in return for their freedom. Oxford’s ferry dock was the local debarkation point for those who signed up. By the turn of the century, with the oyster industry booming, they helped bring prosperity back to a dying town, working as watermen, pickers and packers in the seafood industry.
In more recent times, local black citizens have participated in town governance and law enforcement, and they have served on the Board of Trustees of the Oxford Community Center, the John Wesley Preservation Society, and the Oxford Museum.
As older generations pass away, much of the Oxford community’s rich, diverse heritage has and continues to disappear. Today only a few African American families still reside In Oxford, but the importance of their ancestors to the town’s history and culture should never be forgotten. These lives mattered in the past, and they still do today.
The Museum’s collection of photographs and stories of Oxford’s black citizens is an ongoing project. To contribute by sharing a personal or family story and/or photographs, call the Museum at 410-226-0191. Leave your name and contact information for Stuart Parnes, exhibit curator.