Press Release, February 2005
A history to remember
By Nell Escobar Coakley/ firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday, February 10, 2005
The West Medford African American Remembrance Project has chosen the following
residents from four fields, including leaders, pioneers, artists and
entrepreneurs. The names were chosen randomly from a field of 30 to 40 notable
people who contributed to the community.
These are just the first of several residents to be chosen for the project.
Living nominees: Edward Clayton, the Hon. Marie Jackson, Shirley Kountze and the
Rev. Dr. Oscar G. Phillips and his wife, Miriam Phillips.
Deceased nominees: Madeline Dugger Andrews, Alonzo Fields, Walter Isaacs and
James and Ada Sherwood.
Tufts, MHS students study West Medford African American notables
The first day was cold and wet. The second, warm and inviting. Students from
Tufts University are definitely getting the full experience of life in West
On Feb. 3, about eight students from Tufts showed up at the West Medford home of
Wallace Kountze for a tour of the area. Students are currently studying about
life in one of the country's oldest African American communities, in hopes of
gaining a better understanding about the history and geography of the area
before tackling their big project - interviews with notable members of the
community and/or those who knew them.
The work is being done as part of the "Place, Race and Memory: the Afro-American
Remembrance Project," which will span three years and focus on individuals who
made notable contributions to the city from the late 1800s through the Civil
Thanks to a federal grant of more than $900,000 to be split among five
communities, Medford among them, students will be working to rediscover and
record the history of African Americans in West Medford.
Kountze, who is the chairman of the committee in charge of making
recommendations for the nominees whose stories will be told, said four
categories have been targeted for the first round of the project: leaders,
pioneers, artists and entrepreneurs.
Last Thursday, he and Tufts students hoped to walk Jerome, Lincoln and part of
Arlington streets, where many of the notables lived and worked.
"These are the areas we thought would be of interest," Kountze said. "It wasn't
hard to narrow it down because these were the places that come to mind when you
think about the things going on here."
Kountze said he and Tufts Professor Rosalind Shaw, whose class is undertaking
the first part of the project, took a tour of the area to decide points of
interest, such as Dugger Park, Kelley's Riding Stables and the Little Store,
Although the tour was cut short due to inclement weather, students were excited
about the prospect of studying history first hand.
"I didn't learn much about it when I was in school," said Courtney Robinson, a
Medford resident who is also a senior at Tufts. "Most of the history we learned
about was the Brooks Estate or the Royall House. It really interests me that all
this was going on. It's more than I ever knew, even though I live in the midst
Sophomore Taryn Miller said she is excited to learn more about the community
she's become a part of during her time at Tufts.
"It's a lot of work, but I'm excited because it's a different type of school
work," she said. "You're not reading a book, studying it and then taking a test.
This is really hands on."
Students were treated to their first glimpse of what their part in doing the
oral histories might entail when Kountze and fellow committee member Janice
Works gave their own recollections about some of the notables.
An animated Works joked about growing up in West Medford, but said she's looking
forward to seeing the legacy of the community continue.
"I'd like to see this go down in history because we're the last to know our past
and we don't know that much," she said. "If we lose it, it's all over. No one
else will know."
Meeting of the minds
Works' words were echoed for not only students, but community members who
attended a special reception at the West Medford Baptist Church on Feb. 5.
Among those in attendance were nominees and family and friends of deceased
nominees, who volunteered to be resource people for them. Resource people will
speak to students about a nominee, their life and their accomplishments.
Resource people, nominees and students gathered to share schedules for
interviews and Shaw said the ice was broken for many.
"We're absolutely thrilled," Shaw said of the gathering. "It was a wonderful
start. Students can now build on this experience with the resource people, who
now have a sense of the students."
Some of the living nominees said they were excited by talking to students.
Shirley Kountze, former principal of the Brooks-Hobbes School, said she was
thrilled to be a nominee.
Shirley Kountze was nominated for her work as the first African American
principal in the Medford Public Schools.
"I was excited that all this was being recorded," Shirley Kountze said of her
reaction when told of the project and her nomination. "I knew it was all being
done, but I always thought we should get it all down."
Recalling her years as principal, an animated Shirley Kountze said her years
were full of ups and downs, and while there was the feeling that she was the
token African American in the beginning, she pushed ahead because she knew she
was making a difference.
"I was committed to showing kids about equal opportunity, especially the black
kids," she said. "I was coming at this from the conviction that I wanted to do
For Dr. Ione Vargus, the pleasure of a nomination is not hers, but for her
sister, Madeline Dugger Andrews, for whom a middle school is named. Andrews was
the first African American School Committee member in the city.
"I find it ironic that she was never allowed to teach in the community where she
lived and there is now a school named after her," Vargus said. "But the
superintendent in the 1940s said he would never have a black teacher in the
Medford school system."
Andrews, she said, would eventually end up teaching in Boston, but she would
make her mark on the Medford schools anyway.
"She was drafted to run," Vargus recalled of Andrews' foray into politics. "They
asked my sister, Portia [Byard], but she didn't want to do it so they asked
Madeline and she agreed. I think it was the West Medford Improvement
Association. They worked to get her elected."
Along with Andrews, Vargus said there is word that their father, Lt. Col. Edward
Dugger may also be honored as a nominee. Dugger Park, the first public park and
playground in Medford and surrounding cities and towns named for an African
American, was dedicated in 1939 for Edward's work with local youth.
"It's almost embarrassing," Vargus said of the attention being given to the
family. "There are so many deserving people. My hope is that some people and
families aren't overlooked for those better known."
But that doesn't seem to be the case. Kountze said there are many nominees still
to come over the next two phases of the project. He said last week's two events
prove that West Medford's history will live on.
"The project has gone beyond my wildest dreams," he said. "With the support and
collaboration of two of the finest universities in the world, we are able to
expose Medford High School and Tufts students to our history. I do lament over
the fact that so much has been lost, but we are anxious not to let any more of
it happen on our watch."
(This article was taken from the
Medford Transcript website.)