CUMBERLAND - An extensive array of Allegany County African-American history is now available on the Web.

"This site contains everything I could get my hands on pertaining to African-American history in this region," said local historian Al Feldstein, who created the site in collaboration with the Western Maryland Historical Library. "To me, it's all very interesting - history from eyes of the people, runaway slave notices, achievements of the community."

The new site, www.whilbr.org/AlleganyAfricanAmericans/index.aspx, features more than 350 entries divided into categories such as places, churches, segregation and integration, military and education.

"There are certain groups and topics that I feel have long been overlooked. Our region's African-American history has always been at the top of the list," said Feldstein. "It came to a point that I felt if it wasn't done now while some of the information was still available, it wasn't going to be done at all."

After six months of compiling information, Feldstein was able to finish the site just in time for Black History Month, which is February.

Herman Washington, an Elyria, Ohio, resident who was born and raised in Cumberland, thinks the Web site will serve as a valuable historical resource. Washington, a 1955 graduate of Carver School, provided some of the site's photographs.

Washington's cousin Dolores Gates-Thomas, who now resides in Washington, contributed some of her Carver School items to the project.

"I really admire Al for what he has done," said Gates-Thomas. "I think it's fantastic because it was something that needed to be done for a long time."

"This project was not done by just one person. It was a community effort," said Feldstein, who learned a great deal by listening to the stories of local African-Americans.

"Three different people/families recalled that they had to walk past the segregated Greene Street Junior High School on their way across town to the Frederick Street (Carver) School. This was especially difficult in the cold of winter, and having to wait for the trains at both ends of town," said Feldstein. "I sensed this to be a very hurtful memory, something that is still hard to accept on their part, and a childhood experience that has stayed with each of these individuals throughout their lives. I found this to be among the most poignant of what I was told."

The information on the Web site will help fill a void, according to Jill Craig, digitalization librarian for the Western Maryland Public Libraries.

"We don't have a lot of written African-American history in this region," she said.

The site, which came online Jan. 18, has been linked as a reference and resource on the Web sites of the Maryland State Archives and the Maryland Humanities Council, and Feldstein expects the site to be used as a resource at educational institutions.

The site, which contains numerous primary sources, will be a valuable resource for the school system, said Dan Whetzel, acting supervisor of social studies for the Allegany County Board of Education.

"The Web site that Al put together has filled a void in local history," said Whetzel.

"There has already been feedback, regarding several eye-openers, I guess you could say, as it relates to slavery and segregation - people just aren't aware that this existed right here," said Feldstein. "The military, sports, education and churches chapters have also sparked a lot of interest and comments."

Jaunita Cage Lewis, a former Cumberland resident who lives in Annapolis, is impressed with the content.

"Al Feldstein has truly put together a wonderful black history Web site - the Web site preserves Maryland's African-American history for Allegany County, which has not been an easy job," said Lewis, who is featured on the site with her mother, Phyllis Virginia Williams, with the integration of the Virginia Avenue Elementary School. "With Al, it wasn't a black issue at all - it was about his love of history and knowing we are a part of it. My family and I appreciate his inclusion of us and we commend him for this work.

"All of the photographs are relevant to black life in the Cumberland area," said Lewis. "The Web site can also serve as an excellent tool for use in the public school system to aid when teaching history, because black history is everyone's history, and it is not in out textbooks, certainly not local black history."

Contact Jennifer Raley at jraley@times-news.com.

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