About 80-100 people ultimately made it onto and across the Talbot Avenue Bridge Saturday April 21 for the inaugural Talbot Avenue Bridge Park pop-up civil rights museum. The two-hour event brought people together from all over Montgomery County, including current and former residents of such historically Black communities as River Road and neighboring Lyttonsville.
Though no press attended the event, we benefitted from advance coverage by Washington’s NPR station, WAMU and from a brief feature in Bethesda Beat blog. I would like to thank all of the people who helped pull this off, especially the people who gathered on the bridge to read the text panels, meet new and old neighbors, and learn about the bridge’s history and about the two communities it connected, one a sundown suburb and the other a resilient African-American suburb.
I will be writing more about the event. In the meantime, here is a photo essay documenting the Talbot Avenue Bridge Park’s debut. Stay tuned, there’s more to come!
It all began with a blank bridge. One hour before the event opened I mounted 15 panels on the bridge and on posts at its approaches.
IMPACT Silver Spring contributed a table and other supplies where we had a guest register and where Lyttonsville residents placed information about plans to celebrate the Talbot Avenue Bridge’s 100th birthday.
The panels included text about the area’s history, photos, and interview excerpts from my work in Montgomery County over the past few years.
Harvey Matthews, a former River Road resident, speaks about his erased community as Charlotte Coffield (foreground) of Lyttonsville records his testimony.
Another photo of Harvey Matthews recounting life in Jim Crow Montgomery County and life today. Standing next to him is Lyttonsville’s Patricia Tyson.
The bridge is a unique civil rights landmark where people could learn about Montgomery County’s African American history.
How many museums are dog friendly?
Unlike other museums that rely on recorded sound to add context, we had the real deal. One thing that you can’t get in a traditional museum: the vibrations of a train passing beneath the bridge.
Former River Road resident Harvey Matthews reads one of the panels.
The weather couldn’t have been better.
Lyttonsville resident Patricia Tyson had the wonderful idea to dub the collection of chairs set up around the registration table a “conversation corner.”
Archaeologist Tom King (left), Charlotte Coffield (center), and another Silver Spring resident read a panel with a quotation from one of my interviews with Ms. Coffield where she described the bridge’s historical soundscape.
The Talbot Avenue Bridge is a site of conscience. Yesterday’s event fulfilled one of the key elements of sites of conscience: that they are powerful spaces where people can connect with the past and have meaningful discussions about contemporary issues. Invisible Montgomery is a member of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience.
Thank you to everyone who helped make this a success. Though it was an organic community event made by the people who attended, I couldn’t have pulled this together without all of the help from my dear wife, Laura, and my friends and partners at IMPACT Silver Spring.
If you attended the event and have pictures to share, please visit this post’s presence on the Invisible Montgomery Facebook page and let us see how you captured the event.
Black places, as we’re learning, are under nearly persistent threat of erasure. Even beyond their physical presence, their tremendous histories, cultural traditions, and institutions, are seldom preserved beyond the memories and artifacts collected by those who lived there. — Purifoy, Danielle. “A Place Called Mebane.” Scalawag (blog), August 8, 2016.
© 2018 D.S. Rotenstein and Invisible Montgomery