Chesapeake Heartland: An African American Humanities Project

Chesapeake Heartland is a new collaboration between the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington College, and a diverse array of local organizations including Sumner Hall, Kent Cultural Alliance, and Kent County Public Library. Its mission is to preserve, digitize, interpret, and make accessible materials related to African American history and culture in Kent County, MD and beyond.

The Project's Origins

The Chesapeake Heartland Project grew out of two visits that Lonnie Bunch, founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), made to Washington College in 2014 and 2017. During those visits, he saw the College’s and community’s potential to create a new model for African American public history and asked us to develop a proposal. 

The Starr Center immediately convened a Community Working Group of key stakeholders, assessing how such a collaboration could best meet their organizational and community needs and together developing the Chesapeake Heartland proposal. Starr Center staff and students have engaged in intensive information-gathering conversations with over 40 community leaders from local schools, nonprofits, social service agencies, volunteer committees, youth groups, and churches.

Project Name

The project’s name derives from the Chesapeake region’s identity as the heartland of African American history and culture since the arrival of the first Africans at Jamestown in 1619. Kent County, where Washington College is located, is in many ways a microcosm of that history, with its own rich and diverse African American heritage dating back nearly four centuries. Through the Chesapeake Heartland Project, Washington College’s Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience and its local partners—including the public schools, religious communities, and other nonprofits—will preserve, share, curate, and interpret a broad array of material that documents the many facets of Kent County’s African American history and culture. 

The Logo

"Designing the Chesapeake Heartland logo was a process of deeply understanding the area I am from. Kent County is full of rich history, but growing up here, that history is described through family stories. Unfortunately, due to this fact, the significance of these stories can often be overlooked. So, I had to separate myself and look at the African American history in Kent County from a different perspective. This led to the question, “what has always been important for families in this area”? The answer is land and the water. Since we are a rural community, a lot of families make a living from those two resources. This is what led me to use the colors blue (water) and tan/gold (land).

The Sankofa bird was the icing on the cake, because it represents looking back and remembering the past, while still moving forward. In the Chesapeake Heartland logo, the surrounding design elements around the Sankofa bird represent intertwining waves. The idea behind the complete design is a path woven into the Chesapeake. We are looking back while moving forward." – Gordon Wallace, Pick 6 Digital.


The Humanities Truck

The African American Humanities Truck will serve Kent County and the Eastern Shore as a mobile digitization station, oral history studio, exhibit space, and pop-up-festival-maker. It is designed to meet community members on their own grounds — their own turf and their own terms — inviting partners and participants to gather inside and around the truck to conduct interviews, digitize materials, and create exhibits and events.