Jacqueline Jones, co-coordinator of outreach for St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, stands next to the Prince George’s County Civil Rights Trail marker.
Photo Credits: Aiesha Solomon

Two sites in Laurel are now part of the Prince George’s County Civil Rights Trail, a public history project that focuses on the national Civil Rights Movement of 1954 through 1964. Sites included in the county’s trail have markers indicating their place and role in the movement. The Laurel markers were installed in April.

St. Mark’s United Methodist Church and the Laurel Municipal Swimming Pool each have a marker providing photos and information about their role in the movement. The markers also include links to the county’s website, which has information about all of the sites included in the trail. 

Ann Bennett, executive director of the Laurel Historical Society, stands next to the Laurel pool marker on the Prince George’s County Civil Rights Trail.
Photo Credits: Aiesha Solomon

“The goal would be to go beyond having, like a QR code, but really having something that’s a little bit more informational, a little bit more engaging than … a static website,” Meagan Baco said, in a phone interview. Baco is executive director of the Anacostia Trails Heritage Area, which manages the trail.

St. Mark’s has strong ties to Laurel Grove, the city’s historical Black community. The church is known as the heart of this community.

“[St. Mark’s is] really the anchor of what was historically the African American neighborhood of Laurel, which is called the Grove,” said Ann Bennett, executive director of the Laurel Historical Society. 

There were many big oak trees across the road from the church, which led to the name the Grove, according to Sandra Johnson, a historian at St. Mark’s. 

As described on the Price George’s County Civil Rights Trail website, St. Mark’s supported the Civil Rights Movement, including organizing buses to take participants into the District for the 1963 March on Washington. The church’s overt organizing made it a target of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), whose members attempted unsuccessfully to burn down the church and a nearby home.

Johnson participated in the March on Washington and recalled her experience during her interview with The Laurel Independent.

“I was on that bus. My mother insisted that her three children be a part of it … I think I was something like 13 years old and just looking around, just seeing people everywhere and just the thought of, ‘Oh my gosh! What if I get separated from my mom?’ That would be devastating, so I stayed very close to her that day,” Johnson recalled. 

Following the KKK’s attempts to burn parts of the Grove, the community called upon the mayor, Merrill Harrison, for action.

“Nine days after the second attempt [to burn the church], Rev. John Evans and the Laurel Grove community leaders met with Mayor Harrison, mayor of Laurel, to request improvements to the Grove and the integration of the Laurel pool, and the Laurel pool was integrated in 1968,” Johnson said. The pool had been privately owned and segregated up to that point.

The Prince George’s County Civil Rights Trail extends from Upper Marlboro to Laurel and currently has nine sites marked.

“They’re in places that aren’t necessarily all connected by a physical trail, so we would definitely consider this more of like a thematic trail where people can either explore it online and see the connection geographically, and through like the major historical themes that are happening in the short histories that are provided,” Baco said. 

“It was started when … an ad hoc group of people who are involved in history in the county were aware that we hadn’t been sharing stories of the Civil Rights Movement, and we knew, collectively, the group knew that there was a lot to be shared,” Baco said. 

Creating the trail was a lengthy process that included extensive research about each site, Baco said.

“You’re not reading a lot of … sources where the research has already been done, so some of the research was done … one on one or group interviews with people who were actually associated with the protests … finding, especially, the historic photographs, also takes a long time, and then making sure that you’re writing it and editing it so that it’s accurate, interesting and it all fits on a sign is difficult because you have a limited amount of space,” she said. 

The National Park Service and the Maryland Heritage Area Authority provided approximately $75,000 to fund the project.

As Laurel was part of the state Heritage Area – an area that is a cultural tourism district that receives funding, its inclusion on the trail was a no-brainer, according to Baco.

“When the idea of a trail came up that’s related to interpreting civil rights history, Laurel came to top of mind, and obviously, there were two really great locations … the pool and then St. Mark’s Church [that] have very different, but overlapping histories.” 

Johnson also weighed in on the importance of Laurel’s role in the Civil Rights Movement, writing in an email, “It is very important to recognize the events and locations that the trail markers are highlighting. The events were instrumental in changing the segregated conditions that existed in Laurel and Prince George’s County. The people from the churches and other locations were Trail Blazers in the Civil Rights movement,” 

For more information on the Prince George’s County Civil Rights Trail, go to