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Group Trying To Honor Early Settlement Of Free Blacks

March 23, 1987

PLYMOUTH, Mass. (AP) _ The names Cato Howe, Plato Turner, Prince Goodwin and Quamony Quash don’t carry anywhere near the historic familiarity of Pilgrim fathers Myles Standish or William Bradford.

But both groups led their people to Plymouth and forged new lives for themselves and their descendants against overwhelming odds.

To some, Howe, Turner, Goodwin and Quash are black Pilgrims. And a local organization is trying to make sure they are properly honored for their role as founders of one of the earliest settlements of free blacks in America.

″What better place than Plymouth, where the Pilgrims landed, to show the country and the world there is hope ... through a museum that focuses on the positive contributions made by black Americans in shaping America,″ said Marjorie Anderson, who started a drive for the planned museum 14 years ago.

As the ball got rolling, Anderson made the effort official by giving it a name: the non-profit Parting Ways Museum of Afro-American Ethnohistory Inc.

The name Parting Ways comes from the settlement, which was launched on 106 acres that were given to the four black men for fighting in the Revolutionary War and located near a fork in the road.

Turner, Goodwin and Quash were slaves who earned their freedom by taking their owners’ place in battle; Howe was a free man who fought the British.

Only the tiny Parting Ways Cemetery, where the four are buried, currently marks the historical significance of the land where the men put down stakes and where their descendants lived through 1908.

In 1975, Anderson got the town to sell her group 15 acres of the land for $1. Four years later, all 106 acres were placed on the National Register of Historic Places as an archaeological district.

Now the Parting Ways group is continuing its attempts to raise money to build a $3 million museum building and an adjoining research center to promote education programs and further study of the settlement.

Most of the museum’s items would be artifacts found on the site during a 1975 archaeological dig headed by James Deetz, anthropologist and former assistant director of Plimouth Plantation, a nearby reconstruction of the Pilgrim colony as it looked seven years after it was founded in 1620.

Deetz’ yearlong dig at Parting Ways turned up evidence of distinct traces of African culture in the lives of the former slaves in the form of tamarind jars and other utensils, Anderson said. The 12-foot-square floor plan of the early settlers’ homes also demonstrated links with Africa and the West Indies, where many blacks were captured for sale as slaves in the colonies.

Although the group’s commitment is firm, it has had trouble getting financial backing since the late 1970s.

″You have to remember that when the Bicentennial was here, it was fashionable to help with black projects,″ Anderson said. ″As that changed, people lost interest.″

Added Audrey Somerville, Parting Ways president: ″Right now we’re just keeping our heads above water.″

But Anderson, Somerville and other members say they will continue to work against the odds in the tradition of Howe, Turner, Goodwin and Quash.

″We need support and we have to look for money,″ said Diann Haynes, Parting Ways secretary. ″The support is still out there, but we have to get it.″

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