In a rural Maryland community, a historic Black church brings a reckoning over a racist history that is still prevalent today.
Serving a Black community in Garrett County, Maryland at the turn of the 20th century, the once known as Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, or Bethel AME disappeared almost entirely in the span of a few short decades.
Seated just below the Mason-Dixon line, Garrett County is a deeply conservative, rural enclave in western Maryland, a state that is better known for its Democratic-controlled metropolitan areas. As far as this writer is concerned the term conservative is defines a Jim Crow tendency.
Presently, just over 1% of Garrett County’s population is Black, according to U.S. Census data, making it an outlier in a state that has the largest proportion of Black residents outside the South.
Mountain Lake Park Mayor Don Sincell addressed the issue of racism in a video he posted online a few weeks after Floyd’s death at the hands of police.
“For well over a century Garrett County has had the reputation of being racist, of being a place where Black Americans were strongly encouraged to avoid, if they knew what was good for them,” Sincell said, standing in a room decked with American and Maryland flags.
“That is an absolutely shameful, embarrassing reputation for those who call this home,” he said.
In the 1949 report, the Oakland Centennial Commission declared, “No colored people live in Garrett County now.”
The apocryphal explanation that Black residents left to escape Garrett County’s cold winters became something of a joke among white residents, the Baltimore Sun reported in 2001, offering a convenient out to anyone who wanted to ignore the more uncomfortable reasons for their disappearance.