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2021 Preservation Award: Janice Hayes-Williams

Historic Annapolis is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2021 Historic Annapolis Preservation Award. HA's Preservation Award honors those who have connected the history and culture of our city through historic preservation and education. Over the next few weeks, we will be highlighting this year's awardees and celebrating their dedication to historic preservation as advocates, educators, and stewards.

2021 Preservation Award – Janice Hayes-Williams for Significant Contributions to the field of Historic Preservation

A women walks down a city street wearing a black leather jacket and blue jeans with camel colored boots. Around her neck she wars a light scarf with all different colors, white, yellow, red, brown, green and black.
Janice Hayes-Williams

Have you met Janice Hayes-Williams? A force of nature and a whirlwind of activity and activism, Ms. Hayes-Williams has spent many years championing awareness and appreciation of Annapolis and Maryland’s Black history. When she’s not conducting historical research, you might find her consulting on a new museum exhibit, leading a tour, writing her column for the Capital Gazette, advocating for recognition of a significant individual or event, or even hula hooping.

As a dynamic leader and role model in Annapolis’s historic preservation community, Historic Annapolis is honored to recognize Ms. Hayes-Williams with a Preservation Award for her diligence and determination in recovering and presenting local African American history. In accepting the award, Ms. Hayes-Williams told Historic Annapolis to her surprise, more often than not the congratulations from colleagues, neighbors and friends were conveyed as an emphatic “About time! We’ve been waiting!” A well-deserved testament to her passionate commitment to historic research and as an advocate in the preservation and shaping of Black history as part of the full story of American history.

A women wearing a pink headscarf, black jacket, white tshirt and black pants stands in a doorway. The building is white brick with a red doorjamb. Behind her is a museum exhibit.

Not only is Ms. Hayes-Williams a seventh-generation African American Marylander and an Annapolitan with deep roots, her family tree in Annapolis is extensive and some members can be found mentioned in Ridout family papers*. Her love of history came from her parents, with whom she credits sparking her initial curiosity and championing her engagement with it (when she began her newspaper column, her parents reviewed every article). She could probably credit her parents for her abundant energy which she plows so enthusiastically into her historical endeavors-- after all, her mother was once known as “The Jitterbug Queen of Carr’s Beach.” But the “bug” she caught, Ms. Hayes-Williams told Historic Annapolis, was the history bug. She caught it in Brewer Hill Cemetery when she went to visit the grave of Wiley Bates and discovered that he had been married to her great grandmother’s sister. She discovered not only her own family relations buried there but also a mission to uncover and raise awareness of Maryland’s African American history from then on. Ms. Hayes-Williams is on a mission to recover the names, and by them identities, of the men and women of Annapolis whose histories permeate the fabric of the city.

"I realized I have a voice..."

Annapolis’s City Dock and the surrounding area was a place where captive Africans first came ashore in the Americas, sold directly into slavery from anchored ships or local taverns. Over the decades, many enslaved individuals with particular skills or experience were sent to work or hired out in construction, domestic servitude, and agriculture. As a result of their (and their descendants’) work, the city took shape and benefitted economically. Large and thriving Free Black neighborhoods grew up. So where were these people in the history books? What were their names? Did the city’s records hold more information? What archaeological research was being done? How was unfolding history being written down? “I realized I have a voice,” Ms. Hayes-Williams said, and she has spent many years dedicated to finding and sharing stories and voices of the past. Her Annapolis legacy is significant, and her successes are many, from her work with the Wiley H. Bates Legacy Center to the Crownsville Hospital Center cemetery.

Ms. Hayes-Williams wondered about her own story. To a certain extent, this query has been answered literally as well as figuratively: “My grandma’s chair is in the museum [of Historic Annapolis],” she said, before musing, “we never would have thought of this when my parents were alive!” (chair pictured at left!)

Ms. Hayes-Williams challenges Annapolitans to know a fuller version of their own city’s history, not just to leave “history” (African American or otherwise), to the visiting tourist.

She also challenges today's Black youth to think about careers in history and historic preservation: train in archaeology, engage in historical research, advocate for local recognitions (hint: how do you think historic markers come about?). On the future, she said, “I hope people continue to do what I do.”

Historic Annapolis’s new exhibition Annapolis: An American Story incorporates a considerable amount of Ms. Hayes-William's research into the almost four centuries of African American contributions to the city. Just one of the reasons she feels able to say that “in the last fifteen years I am proud of the acknowledgement of African-American history.” Historic Annapolis is immensely grateful to her for her significant contribution to our permanent exhibition.

So what’s in the pipeline? This past year she worked with Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman on telling the story of the Old Fourth Ward, to include the creation of interpretive storyboards and benches inscribed with names of past residents. She has also been instrumental in advocating for the UNESCO Port of Entry Project that recognizes designated locations, to include City Dock as a ‘Site of Memory’ associated with the Atlantic Slave Route. It is planned the historic port marker will come with a QR code and a website to tell the story, as part of the larger redevelopment and interpretive plans for City Dock.

A woman in a black tanktop, black jeans, and black high heels stands to the left of a bronze statue of Justice Thurgood Marshall. The statue sits on a marble pedestal. Behind the statue are several pillars and a white door with a triangular transom.

Given the long list of success stories, you could be forgiven for imagining it’s been an easy road. Ms. Hayes-Williams considers one of the greatest challenges she’s found on her journey has been resistance to acceptance of the histories she’s uncovered or wanted to share. It’s a common enough tale to encounter bureaucratic red tape; to find people in authority or with funds who don’t think there’s an audience or simply don’t want to listen. When she really wanted to dig deep, she found she was adopted by the Annapolis Historic Consortium. “They get big kudos,” she says. A turning point in her acceptance and progress.

In a city like Annapolis, where so many families and descendants of early residents still live, there are big and exciting opportunities to recover lost history, just by engaging with the local community. “We are so prideful,” she says of her own experience of promoting Annapolis’s African American history. “We want to be told in the right way and we want to be included, because it’s our town, too.”

An understanding of history is crucially important to a rounded understanding of the present and paves the way for our future. History shouldn’t be something we are bored by, afraid of, or shy away from. “I challenge the next generation to tell it like it is,” says Ms. Hayes-Williams.

All those years ago, Janice Hayes-Williams wondered “Where is my history? Where is my Annapolis?” Now she says, “I look around and I see my history everywhere.” So let X mark the spot. There’s buried historical treasure here in Annapolis. Will you be like Ms. Hayes-Williams, and help unearth it for all to see?

by Jennifer Dodson and Karen Theimer Brown


*The Ridouts arrived in Annapolis in 1756 when John Ridout became secretary of colonial Gov. Horatio Sharpe, and the family became prominent members of Annapolitan society. Janice Hayes-Williams’ ancestors can be found among enslaved members of the Horatio Sharpe household. Direct descendant Orlando Ridout IV (d.2017) was Maryland’s first State Historic Preservation Officer, and long-time friend of Janice Hayes-Williams. She told staff, fondly, that “Lanny took me to my roots."

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