More than 300 people gathered June 23 at the Pleasant View Historic Site, 11810 Darnestown Road, to commemorate 150 years since three African American individuals, including two former slaves, purchased the land for $58. It was their dream that the site would become a center of life for the local African American community.
The three acres, just across MD 28 from Gaithersburg, are today the site of a historic cemetery, church and schoolhouse. Recently added to the site is a native plant garden, funded by Montgomery County Water Quality Protection Fund and the Chesapeake Bay Trust. With all of its elements, the three-acre site nourishes roots that extend far below the surface, into the multi-layered history of the African American community in the Quince Orchard area.
In addition to the historic 150-year anniversary, the event highlighted a campaign to raise $1 million for preservation of the site. The event also served as the annual Pleasant View “JuneFest” community gala, featuring speakers, music and barbecue.
Former President Barack Obama sent a letter to the Pleasant View Historical Association, read by association member Dr. Kisha Davis.
“… Today we stand on the shoulders of giants who helped move us toward a more perfect union, and those three men who purchased that land in 1868 are an important part of our forward movement.
“Progress in America has not come easily, but has resulted from the collective efforts of generations who challenged our country’s resilience. Our heritage was forged by men and women who organized, agitated and advocated for change, who wielded love stronger than hate, and hope more powerful than insult or injury. Who fought to build a nation where no one is a second-class citizen and no one is denied basic rights.
“And while more remains to be done to insure every American is treated equally, I am confident we will get there because there is no challenge we cannot surmount when we maintain faith in ourselves and the possibilities of our country.”
In 1872, Maryland passed a law mandating construction of schools for African Americans. The original one-room (22 by 28 feet) Quince Orchard Colored School at Pleasant View opened in 1874. It served eight grades.
Students were taught by a single teacher paid one-third the salary of white county teachers. Students used books discarded by the white schools. In winter, there was not always fuel for the coal stove.
In 1901, the school was destroyed by suspected arson.
In 1902, the county moved an abandoned 26-year-old, one-room schoolhouse located across Darnestown Road to the site. Two rooms were added to the school in the 1940s and that school remains on-site today. The facility closed in 1951 when students were sent to Rock Terrace School in Rockville.
Completed in 1888, the Pleasant View Church belonged to the Washington Negro Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church. The church was rebuilt in 1914 and today is home to the non-denominational Mt. of Olives Church.
Guests included descendants of community members involved with the Pleasant View site since the beginning, as well as supporters from inside and outside the neighborhood.
Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett brought congratulations on behalf of the county. State Senator Brian Feldman brought a proclamation from the state legislature and Governor Larry Hogan.
From the City of Gaithersburg, a three-person delegation including Mayor Jud Ashman and City Council members Michael Sesma and Laurie-Anne Sayles came to proclaim that, in the City of Gaithersburg, June 23, 2018 “is Pleasant View Historic Site Day” because it is “a historic location that enriches and inspires a diverse community by memorializing the African American experience in Montgomery County.”
A second proclamation from Gaithersburg proclaimed June 23, 2018 to be “Ida Pearl Green Day.” Mrs. Green, who was present at the celebration, is a lifelong member of the Pleasant View Community and a Historic Association trustee. She had just celebrated her 100th birthday the preceding week.
David Blair, candidate for the Democratic nomination for county executive whose election was too close to call after the June 26 primary (recount in progress) is active in Pleasant View’s capital campaign to raise a million dollars to rehabilitate the historic buildings and to establish a multi-purpose community center on the site. In answer to a question from this reporter, Blair said about $500,000 had been raised to date.
Chris Gardener, entrepreneur and author of “The Pursuit of Happyness” (the basis of the critically acclaimed movie of the same name), was the featured speaker. Gardener recently won a Peabody award for producing a documentary on Maya Angelou, “And Still I Rise.”
Gardener said he strives to “help others achieve their fullest potential.” His current goal is to speak at 100 high schools in the coming months. When students ask why he spells ‘happyness’ with a “y,” Gardener says he will respond that, “It is… your responsibility to create the life you want for you and your family.”
A documentary about the historic site is still in production.
For more information about the site, visit www.pleasantviewsite.org.