HURLOCK — Historical Freedom Day was celebrated on Nov. 3 with a reception at the Hurlock train station. Public commendations were awarded to the 10 individuals whose names appear on the iconic Freedom Shrine between Hurlock and Preston on Rt. 16.
Attending the event were a number of county residents and community leaders, including Delegate Johnny Mautz, Dr. Carl Barham, and Mr. Gregory Meekins. Nance Soreng and a group of representatives from the League of Women Voters were also in attendance.
The 40,000 lbs. monument, erected in 1987, commemorates the passing of legislation ordering statewide voting equity. Leading advocate for Freedom Day, Dr. Carl S. Barham, spoke at the event noting that north Dorchester County is the “Birthplace of Voter Reform.” The inscription on the monument reads: “We the people honor these men who brought democracy to Dorchester County July 8, 1985 by a change of the Constitution of Maryland ordered by the United States Courts.”
“This is the second anniversary of Dorchester County’s Historical Freedom Day,” said Dr. Barham. “From 1851 to 1986–135 years–the Maryland constitution was written in a fashion that put minority groups at a disadvantage.” Dr. Barham explained that before the elections of 1986, county elections were conducted under an at-large system, and in 1986 commissioners were elected who resided in, and were selected by, the voters in a single member district, our system that is still in use today.
“This was the best-kept secret in Dorchester County,” jokes Dr. Barham. “Very few people realized the significance of this major change in our voting laws.” He went on to explain his dedication to the cause of promoting the monument and Dorchester’s role in bringing voting reform to Maryland came in the form of an epiphany. “I drove up and down that road for 50 years, and then one day, on March 12th, 2012, thought, ‘I’m going to stop and look at that monument … ‘”
“It’s not unusual to see grave sites and such on people’s property, so I never thought about it much,” he continued, “but on that day, (stopping and reading the monument) resulted in a transformation for me,” the result of which is his desire to promote the monument and spread the word about its significance.
“We’re here to emphasize the change the law made, in voters being able to vote for a local representative rather than the at-large ticket, and that it really made a difference in the way local government is run,” said Frances Cresswell, Director of the Dorchester County Library.
“Up until 1986, the County Council was elected from the entire county, which meant that, for 150 years, roughly, no one governing the county had been from Hurlock, or south county, north county–every councilmember for 150 years had been from the City of Cambridge, because that was the population center of Dorchester County. No matter who ran, the person who won was the person with the largest number of votes.”
One curiosity of the monument, which is located on private property on the west side of East New Market-Ellwood Road (Maryland Route 331/16) 0.4 miles south of Preston Road (Maryland Route 318), is that no one knows who commissioned it. The monument arrived on a truck from a stone-cutting concern in Georgia with the driver saying, “Where do you want it?” To this day, who ordered the monument is still a mystery.
It was called the “homeless stone” originally, because no one wanted the monument on their property. Ultimately the monument wound up alongside the road on the property of George C. Jones, leader of the North Dorchester Democratic Club and subsequent author of the book Revolution on the Eastern Shore, and one of the 10 men who worked to change the voting laws.
The 10 men honored on the monument are George C. Jones, Charles F. Hurley Sr., Don W. Bradley, Oliver Harding, Richard Harding, William Reid, Edward Conway, William O. Corkran, Leon Medford, and Gregory Meekins. Mr. Meekins was in attendance at the event on Tuesday, he and Mr. Bradley are the only surviving members of the 10 men who are honored on the monument.
Mr. Meekins has said that the monument and that Freedom Day has “reawakened people’s consciousness about the importance of voting. The work that was done in this part of the county helped make voting more accessible to everyone and helped change the landscape not only in Dorchester but in other counties on the shore. My hope is that people will exercise that right to vote.”
The event was a celebration of the declaration of Historical Freedom Day, with information and experiences passed between audience members. A bus tour was arranged to the monument for anyone interested in visiting the site. The celebration concluded in the early afternoon, and scheduled for the evening was a re-dedication by the Dorchester County Council, declaring Nov. 10, 2016 as “Historical Freedom Day.”
Interested parties can find a photo-montage of the ten men and a photo of the Historical Freedom Shrine displayed in the County Council Chamber, Cambridge Public Library, Hurlock Branch Library and Hurlock United Methodist Church.
Paul Clipper is the editor of the Dorchester Banner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.