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Jean Langston's Legacy

Elizabeth Jean Langston has led the Frederick Douglass Museum and Cultural Center 

since it's inception twenty-eight years ago. Late last year she announced to the museum board that while she will continue to serve on the board, she will step down from her Executive Director post at the end of March.


In those nearly three decades Mrs. Langston’s efforts to create the museum, offer tours, dedicate herself to community outreach, and lead the board of directors have created an enduring legacy.


Twin Oaks, the summer home designed by and for Frederick Douglass, was built in Highland Beach, Maryland in 1895. The Douglass family owned the house until 1986. By that time the house needed extensive repairs. It was purchased by architect Charles Bohl and his wife Barbara. With their experience in historic renovations, the house was given new life.

The Frederick Douglass Museum and Cultural Center at Twin Oaks

In 1996, the Bohls sold the house to Anne Arundel County and the state of Maryland and

those two entities deeded it to Highland Beach. That was the beginning of both the museum and Mrs. Langston’s leadership at the FDMCC.


As Mrs. Langston prepares to pass the torch to a new generation, she reflected on her early days in Highland Beach and as head of the museum.


She recalled sitting on the porch of the Terrell House (next to Twin Oaks) with her mother-in- law, Phyllis Langston. Phyllis, she said, loved to tell stories of the earlier times at the beach. Jean Langston developed a deep appreciation for the community's history and wanted to learn more.


Mr. and Mrs. Langston

She said her husband, Ray Langston, is the one who kicked off the formal effort to document the community's history. Mr. Langston was the chairman of the Highland Beach Historical Commission in 1989. The Historical Commission's initial purpose was to prepare for Highland Beach's 100th anniversary. This included writing grants, accepting donations, doing research, collecting memorabilia, developing a videotape, Highland Beach - The First 100 Years, and creating an exhibit. The exhibit opened at the Banneker-Douglass Museum in 1993.


When Mr. Langston was elected mayor of the town in 1996, Mrs. Langston stepped into the Director's position for the museum.


Mrs. Langston recalled that the community came together to donate artifacts, organize and set up displays inside the house, and host events. The Langston family donated numerous items from the Mary Church Terrell estate. The couple also formed a partnership with the National Park Service and Cedar Hill estate, Mr. Douglass' home in Washington, D.C. That partnership is still in place today, with the FDMCC displaying numerous items from the estate.


Her early partner in the FDMCC was her elementary school classmate Geneva Hudson. Mrs. Hudson submitted these memories of working with Mrs. Langston.

 

Jean was primarily responsible for getting grants from the State and county, as well as private donations to fund the museum. I developed exhibits including celebrations of people with ties to the Beach like Mary

Mrs. Langston (R) and Mrs. Hudson (C) with school children at a Civil War event, 1999

Church Terrell, Dr. Charles Drew, astronaut Colonel Fred Gregory, the Civil War, and an exhibit of Black memorabilia.


We participated in workshops and became active in the Maryland Small Museum Association. Our large and small exhibits were shown first at the Banneker- Douglass Museum, then at Solomon Island Maritime Museum, the Banneker- Douglass Park Museum, Maryland Hall, Eubie Blake Museum in Baltimore, Southeastern University, and Peoples

Congregational UCC in Washington, DC.


Jean shared information with reporters and others about the Beach. Over the years (she) arranged tours for schools, churches, social groups and organizations, public officials,

Mrs. Langston at a book signing at the museum

and dignitaries. Book signings and other special events were held. She managed the papers, books, and artifacts that became part of the museum collection, especially material from the Mary Church Terrell legacy. A souvenir shop was established and named in memory of Gladys Bush.


This is only a sampling of all that Jean, along with her husband Ray, and other Beach leaders have done and contributed to the museum and to Highland Beach. It has been a pleasure for me to have had the opportunity to work with her. She always has a warm and calm demeanor, but makes sure things are done thoroughly and done well.

 

Those sentiments were echoed by all those who worked with Mrs. Langston. Highland Beach resident Margo Dean Pinson was also involved in the early days of the museum. She called Mrs. Langston's leadership “outstanding” and credits her as the “force behind getting it all organized.”


Mr. and Mrs. Langston inside the museum, 2002

Mr. Langston said of his wife, “her greatest strength is inspiring others to get involved.” He said her energy and dedication have been

Highland Beach on the Chesapeake Bay

unwavering. That included her collaboration on the book, Highland Beach on the Chesapeake Bay. Mrs. Langston dedicated herself to research, sorting and organizing the photos for the book, and copyediting. The book is now in its second edition and remains the best selling item in the museum's gift shop.


Current museum director Dena Sewell called Mrs. Langston her “tour mentor” and said she left no stone unturned in her mission to create the museum.


Perhaps it was Mrs. Langston's background as an educator that helped her forge the path as the museum director. Mrs. Langston taught science and biology at Shaw Junior High

Mrs. Langston helps a student make college selections,1988

School and Browne Junior High School in Washington, D.C. until 1972. Then she accepted a science teaching position in the Prince Georges County Schools while earning her masters degree in Guidance and Counseling. For next the twenty years she helped students in Prince Georges County as a guidance counselor.


Mrs. Langston at her retirement ceremony in 1994

As she moved into the leadership position at the museum she soon began guiding and teaching again, but this time the focus was history – the history of Frederick Douglass and of the Highland Beach and Venice Beach communities. Mrs. Langston said she began by reading children’s books about Mr. Douglass’ life. She thought this was appropriate because she and Mrs. Hudson were doing so many school tours. She’s now read more than a dozen books about his life, including David Blight's 912-page biography on Mr. Douglass, widely seen as the definitive work on Mr. Douglass' life.


In three decades, a lot has changed at the museum. The FDMCC began as a community project with many community events being hosted there. Now there is interest from across the region with many more requests for tours and visitors from all over the world, including ten countries in Africa, China, Japan, South America, and Australia.


Mrs. Langston greets Gov. Wes Moore, Sept. 2023

Last year, for the Highland Beach 130th anniversary celebration, Mrs. Langston welcomed Maryland Governor Wes Moore to Twin Oaks.


She also spoke at the celebration dinner, thanking everyone who has contributed to the success of the museum.


The governor also recognized the work of many when he congratulated the community for its work in telling “this beautiful story.”


Mrs. Langston will continue to work on the museum board and we are grateful that her knowledge and thoughtful consideration will continue as the museum moves forward with its mission to remain a vibrant part of the community and an enduring testament to the success of African Americans.


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