James Karmel serves as the director of the Harford Civil Rights Project, a digital exhibition and mobile app that focuses on the various aspects of the civil rights movement as it relates to Harford County. (Courtesy Photo)

By Megan Sayles, AFRO Business Writer
Report for America Corps Member
msayles@afro.com

Harford Community College, on Oct. 28, will release the Harford Civil Rights Project, a digital exhibition and mobile app that focuses on African Americans’ struggle for equality in Harford County during the 20th century.

James Karmel, director of the project and professor of history at Harford Community College, acquired a $97,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to fund the project. He, along with the college’s faculty and students, conducted research over the past three years to create the exhibition. 

The impetus for the Harford Civil Rights Project arose out of Karmel’s interest in exploring the desegregation of schools and businesses in Harford County, as well as his enthusiasm for teaching African American history. 

“The story of what happened in Harford in the 1950s and 60s via civil rights and desegregation was not well known outside of a relatively small group of history-minded folks,” said Karmel. 

The free mobile app for the digital exhibit was developed by Curatescape and features location-enabled sites where users can learn more about key events and activists through text descriptions, images and oral history recordings. The hope is that members of the community will eventually contribute their own stories and knowledge to the app. 

Some of the incidents that the project covers include the 1961 Freedom Ride on Route 40 in which activists tried to desegregate restaurants along the highway, sit-ins by Morgan State University students and the Stephen Moore III cases, which exemplify the early efforts to desegregate Harford County Public Schools. Karmel also utilized the Afro’s archives for some of the material in the exhibit. 

“The Afro-American had great coverage of the Civil Rights Movement and because it was Baltimore-based, it did a lot of regional stuff,” said Karmel. “It really covered the situation in Harford pretty extensively.” 

Overtime, Karmel plans to continue exploring further facets of the civil rights movement in the Harford Region, including voting rights and fair housing. He also wants to incorporate stories about the 21st Century Civil Rights Movement, which he associated with the Black Lives Matter movement. 

To be an engaged citizen in the United States, people must have an understanding of their history, according to Karmel, but in current times, the politicization of history has become a problem. The Harford Civil Rights Project aims to set the historical story straight. With its launch, the exhibition is generating its own regional history. 

“It’s always important for people to learn about history and the culture of their communities,” said Karmel.

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