New book by Clara Small profiles African Americans from the Delmarva

SALISBURY — The first African-American woman to serve in a state legislature lived on the Delmarva Peninsula. So did two Tuskegee Airmen, a Buffalo Soldier and the second president of Liberia.

These are just a handful of the notable individuals Dr. Clara Small profiles in her new book Compass Points: Profiles and Biographies of African Americans from the Delmarva Peninsula.

The 317-page book, containing some 56 profiles, is an extension of a one-night project Small undertook in 1998 as a professor of history at Salisbury University.

“A student said Blacks have never done anything in this country, nor on the Eastern Shore,” she said. “I stayed up all night and wrote a 32-page book.”

The manuscript’s title reflected what Small hoped the book would give the student: A Reality Check. It included brief biographies of many of the individuals explored in depth in her new work.

Her all-nighter was the beginning of a 15-year labor of love. She spent the next decade and a half conducting research, from primary documents to interviews with dozens of people who knew, were related to, were descendants of or, in some cases, actually were those she wanted to profile.

Her retirement in 2013 after almost half a century in education — including nearly four decades at SU — gave her time to “get that information out of my head and down on paper.”

She hopes that from there, it will get into the heads of many others.

“Most people who live here have no idea about [the book’s subjects’] contributions to Delmarva,” she said. “Most of them are national figures.”

Nearly everyone in the United States has heard about the Eastern Shore’s famous abolitionists, Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, who are included. Others are less well known. Among those who stand out most to her personally, Small lists:

  • Henry Highland Garnet, the first African-American nationalist;
  • Richard Allen, founding bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church;
  • Charles Chipman, Salisbury educator and community leader;
  • Crystal Bird Fauset, Pennsylvania House of Representatives member;
  • Kermit Cottman and H. DeWayne Whittington, Somerset County Public Schools superintendents;
  • Stephen Long, Worcester County education advocate;
  • Mary Fair Burks, civil rights activist; and
  • Stephen Benson, president of Liberia.

While many have passed away — some, like Colonial planters Anthony and Mary Johnson, more than 400 years ago — others are examples of living history. These include educator and community leader Mary Gladys Jones (“Everyone knows her,” Small said), Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator Bryan Collier and former Major League Baseball All-Star Harold Baines.

“Some of these people I’ve known, or knew, for many years,” Small said. “I just started writing about them.”

There is a lot more to be written. Small is about a quarter of the way through a planned sequel.

“There is so much information on so many people,” she said.

The interviews, in particular, have encouraged her to pursue additional projects. After completing volume two, she hopes to write not only about individuals but the flavor and traditions of the Eastern Shore as a whole.

Compass Points is Small’s third book. Along with Reality Check, she also is the co-author (with the Rev. David Briddell) of Men of Color to Arms! Manumitted Slaves and Free Blacks from the Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland Who Served in the Civil War, released in 2010.

For more information call 410-543-6030 or visit the SU website at Small

Facebook Comment