Primary school children posing in front of Lakeland Elementary School, February 17, 1949; Courtesy of the Lakeland Community Heritage Project, College Park, MD
A documentary film depicting the educational experiences of the African American community of Lakeland, entitled “Folk Made the School,” had its second showing this past month at the Lakeland Gala Event for Black History Month 2012. The film, produced in collaboration with the Lakeland Community Heritage Project, is the culmination of documentation, oral history recording, and painstaking research by University of Maryland students from the Historic Preservation Program, the Department of American Studies, and the Department of Anthropology under the guidance of Dr. Mary Corbin Sies, professor of American Studies.
The story of Lakeland is not well known, even among those living in College Park today. Located east of Route 1 in Prince George’s County, Lakeland was a thriving multi-generational African American community originally established in 1890 as a white resort community. Student research showed that it had transitioned to an African American community by 1910. For over 80 years, the community flourished, thanks to a solid spiritual base provided by its two churches, a growing middle-class population, and a strong emphasis on the value of education. Flooding from Paint Branch Creek was an occasional challenge for the community, resulting in water-damaged homes and flooded streets. In the 1970s, the City of College Park approved the Lakeland Urban Renewal Plan, purported to bring the community up to code and address the problem topography responsible for years of flooding. What resulted, however, was the displacement of two-thirds of the community’s households; much of the housing stock and all the commercial buildings were bulldozed, leaving just the core of Lakeland remaining. Although the urban renewal grant promised new and better quality housing, the denser townhomes and high rise buildings that replaced Lakelanders’ houses did not accept many Lakeland residents, and all of the east side land was redeveloped to become Lake Artemesia Park.
The goal of the Lakeland/University of Maryland collaboration is to help preserve the rich history of Lakeland for future generations, and for everyone interested in African American communities and community history. The mission of the Lakeland Community Heritage Project is to collect, preserve, and interpret the heritage and history of those African Americans who built and lived in Lakeland from 1890 to the present. “Our students examine maps, census records, photographs, deeds, newspapers, and record oral histories to help Lakelanders tell their stories about African American life during segregation and after, and to tell those stories in their own voices,” says Dr. Sies.
Over three semesters, students in Sies’s Social and Ethical Issues in Historic Preservation course have produced several valuable documents in line with this collaboration. Students developed a comprehensive report on the history of Lakeland’s east side, the documentary film, “Folk Made the School,” and also helped to build a digital archive of Lakeland’s history. Sarah Colvin, who graduated with a dual Master’s degree in Architecture and Historic Preservation in winter 2011, also created a brochure for a walking tour around Lake Artemesia (formerly East Lakeland), highlighting some of Lakeland’s historic homes, schools and families. “This project is unusual because typically historic preservation is about preserving and documenting the built environment,” explains Dr. Don Linebaugh, Director of University of Maryland’s Historic Preservation Department. “Since many of the homes and community buildings of Lakeland no longer exist, our students are instead working to preserve its story and heritage. It’s a very important project for this area, and we look forward to continued study of the Lakeland community.”
The School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation at the University of Maryland is home to four academic disciplines: architecture, urban planning, historic preservation and real estate development. Committed to educating its students and community about the importance of sustainability and smart growth, the School practices an interdisciplinary approach to education, research, creative work, and community and professional service. For more information, please e-mail us or call 301.405.8000.
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