A Ritual of Remembrance on the JHU Homewood Campus
Honoring those who lived and labored on the Carroll family estate
Charity Castle; Ben; Sue; Christopher Castle; John; Sam Dorsey; Tom Foulkes; William Ross, Christopher; Izadod Conner; Cis Conner; Lott; Sam; Anna; Mary Conner; Joseph Conner; Isidore Conner; Mary Ann Castle; Caesar Conner; Beck Conner; Richard Ross; Rebecca Ross; John; Jule Conner; Mary Ross; Kesia; Anna; Sally and three children; Sarah; James; Nick; Wist; Zack; Daniel; Hilary Stewart; Anny Stewart; Westley Stewart; Sally Stewart; Ann Buckmore and her child; Lindy Buckmore and her child; Catherine Buckmore; Hezekiah Wallace; James Dorsey; Sarah Comas; Sarah Branson; Samuel Castle; John Castle; Bernard Castle; Patience Cook; Matlida.
When I arrived at the Johns Hopkins campus in fall 2017, I was greeted by the Homewood Museum — the early 19th century homestead of Charles Carroll of Homewood — perched on a bluff overlooking N. Charles Street. The same place has overseen generations of students, staff, and faculty as we live, work and learn on the Homewood campus.
It wasn’t long before I learned that the Homewood Museum was a very fraught touchstone for anyone beginning their time at Johns Hopkins. During a tour with then director Julia Rose, I learned that the house-turned-museum was for many decades a site of enslavement. Yes, the 21st century museum is a showcase for architecture and the decorative arts. But as Rose, researcher Dr. Abby Schreiber, along with teams of JHU students uncovered, Charles Carroll’s home was a place of forced labor, violence and exploitation.
I sat for a long time with the names and the stories of those enslaved at Homewood before I could return to the place. When I did, I tried to see beyond the museum’s opulence to appreciate the nearly invisible hands of the Black laborers who made the Carroll family’s comfort and prosperity possible. Student-curated displays — such has one that brought the work of visual artist Kara Walker into the space — helped me to connect Homewood’s elegant facade with the crime against humanity that unfolded within it. I reflected on the hard history of this place here in the “Any Woman” episode of the Amended podcast, for New York Humanities.
I am grateful to our colleagues at Inheritance Baltimore, the Billie Holiday Project for Liberation Arts, the Program in Racism, Immigration, and Citizenship, the Homewood Museum, and the Center for Social Concern for bringing us together for a Ritual of Remembrance that deepened my thinking about what it means for us to remember and honor those enslaved at Homewood. Together, we shared dramatic readings, music and dance led by the Urban Foli ensemble, the speaking of names, the pouring of libations, and the creation of a wall of remembrance. As Dr. Jasmine Blanks Jones, a post-doctoral fellow at JHU explained: “By speaking the names of those enslaved at Homewood, we carry their personhood through centuries.” I left the afternoon filled with a mournful joy. You can hear more from Dr. Jones in her conversation with WYPR’s Sheilah Kast for On the Record.
At the Lab at Hard Histories, student researchers Marvis Gutierrez and Holly Nelson have explored the next chapter in the story of enslavement at Homewood through their examination of the Wyman and Keyser families. Stay tuned here for more on their research.
In the late 60s, Homewood House hosted the administrative office of Johns Hopkins President, Lincoln Gordon. Ironically, it was at this place of historical enslavement that Johns Hopkins Black Student Union engaged in a sit-in until Gordon would meet with them. He was presented a list of demands deemed by the black students to address vestiges of racism on campus as the University sought to attract black students in large numbers. That this protest event that was one of the turning points in the University’s racial relations is not associated with modern day presentations of Homewood House history is a missed opportunity to connect the past with contemporary black history of blacks on campus. Unfortunately not allowing black students acknowledgement through physical landmarks of our history of engagement to make the University a welcoming place for those who came later remains a challenge. Homewood House is part of our contemporary history.