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Goucher Students Preserving Black History in AMS 230


AMS 230 Religions of Baltimore is a study of world religions in the context of Baltimore taught by Ann Duncan, Professor of American Studies and Religion. The course falls under both the Religion and American Studies programs. 

Central to this class is a community-based learning project and this year, Ann Duncan began a partnership with two religious communities that have historical ties to Goucher. 

The first religious community is Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Phoenix, MD. This church’s origins date back to the early 19th century and is currently working with several other local churches on a cemetery restoration project. 

Their cemetery is in disrepair and within it contains graves from the early 19th Century to the present and likely over one hundred unmarked graves. Historical records suggest that free and enslaved Black people from the area – including some who worked on Epsom Farm, the plantation that operated where Goucher is currently located, are buried there. 

Above: a toppled grave in Mt. Zion AME’s cemetery, feature image: students working at Mt. Zion AME. Courtesy of Ann Duncan.

Students from AMS 230 have been involved in two parts of this project: first in performing oral histories of some of the oldest congregants and second by cataloging the gravestones in the graveyard to assist in a full mapping of visible gravestones. 

Destry Butler, who is working on Mt. Zion AME Church project said that they learned that they are more spiritual in their thought processes than they initially believed.

“I’ve really enjoyed this class so far, I initially wanted to take this class to learn more about religions since it’s always been a topic that’s been foreign to me,” said Butler, “I’ve never been highly religious nor has anyone in my immediate family been. I mean, I’ve been baptized and went to church till elementary school, but I never really understood the importance or ‘fad’ if you will, of religion.” 

Destry also learned that they like learning about different cultures and learning about things that are important to others. This class helped Destry to solidify their major of Environmental Studies with an Environment and Society concentration.

Students at Mt. Zion AME Church. Courtesy of Ann Duncan.

The second religious community is Sharp Street United Methodist Church in Baltimore city. This street also dates back to the 19th Century and has ties to John Goucher and the early days of what would become Goucher College. 

This predominantly Black church has deep roots in the city as a center for activism and community – it famously counted Frederick Douglass as one of its members. The community there owns a small row house in which it keeps its rich historical artifacts. 

Duncan’s class is working with Bonnie McCubbin, who manages the archives at Lovely Lane Methodist Church, to catalog all of the artifacts as part of a larger effort to properly preserve and display them moving forward.

Both of these projects are new this year but offer long-term possibilities for Goucher students to assist in preserving the history of these two important sites of Black religious history in the Baltimore area. The Religion and American Studies departments are also pursuing the possibilities of internship opportunities for students interested in independent work, according to Duncan.

In addition to the community-based learning element, in this course students learn about religion as a human phenomenon and about five major world religions– Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. They also explore the ways in which immigration history, cultural norms, and other social factors have shaped how these religions manifest in the Baltimore area.

AMS 230 is offered most fall semesters. It fulfills the Race, Power, and Perspective requirement as well as the Humanities and Interdisciplinary Studies requirement.

Duncan’s writing, research, and teaching focus on the intersections of religion and public life. She has a new book called Sacred Pregnancy: Motherhood, Birth, and the Quest for Spiritual Community that is coming out in the Spring of 2023. The book discusses the intersections of religion and motherhood.

Sara (she/her) is a first-year and a Staff Writer at The Quindecim. She is a History major and is considering minoring in Communication and Media Studies. Sara is from Lower Merion, PA and a graduate of Lower Merion High School. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, biking, swimming, reading, photography, going to museums, spending time in the library and hanging out with friends in the Towson area.

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