African American Communities After the Civil War

With the 1865 passage of the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution, which federally abolished slavery, former slaves were celebrating their new found freedom. Yet many were left trying to determine where they would go, now that they could leave the places where they and their families had been forced to live and work for generations.  Some former slaves chose to stay in the home where they had worked for their prior owners; some moved to farms of white land owners and became tenant farmers or sharecroppers.  Others were hopeful that they could purchase their own land and start their own farms.


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In Montgomery County, many African-Americans were able to purchase plots of land by making installment payments over the course of months or years.  Using the skills acquired while working as slaves for their previous owners, such as farming, blacksmithing and carpentry, these men and women were ready to build and maintain their own homes and farms.  Although slavery was over, African Americans still faced discrimination in the segregated world; by forming their own communities, they were able to create a support system.  Some of these towns and villages formed deliberately, settled by groups of friends and relations; others grew up naturally, because the purchased plots of land were adjacent to each other. 

The northwest Montgomery County towns of Martinsburg, Jerusalem and Sugarland were all communities founded by African-Americans after the Civil War with land that had been divided and sold by white landowners.  Sugarland, situated outside of Poolesville, had as many as 100 residents by the end of the 19th century.  By then, the community had town well, a school and the St. Paul Community Church.   In the early 20th century the town added a store, run by Isaac Bell, and its own post office.  The residents of Sugarland farmed their land, and many also had jobs as laborers at nearby farms, the Seneca Quarry, and the C&O Canal.  It was a self-sufficient and successful community. 

Sponsors: The Gazette Newspapers, Comcast, Clear Channel Communications, Ernst & Young/Gary Correll, A&C Multimedia Group, Washington Chinese News.

Thank you to: Rita Lewi, Executive Director, Chinese Culture and Community Service Center (CCACC), Wintergreen Kunqu Society, Monica Escalante of Montgomery Hospice, The Washington Revels, Jasmine Zhou of AC Multimedia Group, Sebastian Montes, Carolyn Camacho, Karla Silvestre, Pamela Chiang and Tony Shen