AGNES KANE CALLUM, historian, genealogist and researcher, was born in Baltimore City, Maryland, the fifth child of 12, to Phillip Moten Kane and Mary Priscilla Kane nee Gough, formerly of St. Mary’s County, Maryland on February 24, 1925. She married the late Solomon Melvin Callum of Jamestown, South Carolina. She had five children Paul Ambrose Foster, Agnes Helen, Arthur Melvin, Martin James and Martina Priscilla. Agnes was an active member of St. Francis Xavier Parish for 90 years, her entire life, and became the church’s historian. The church had been joined by her paternal grandfather, Henry Kane, in 1896.
She was educated in Baltimore City Public Schools. At age 44, she returned to school and earned her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees from Morgan State University in 1973 and 1977, respectively, while maintaining her full-time job with the United States Postal Service.In 1973, she was designated a Fulbright-Haynes Scholar which led to her study at the University of Ghana at Legon, Accra. In 2008, she received an Honorary Doctorate degree in history from St. Mary’s College of St. Mary’s County, Maryland.
As an undergraduate, she wrote a paper, The Acquisition of Land by Free Blacks in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, for a Black History class. Through her research in the Maryland State Archives, she discovered information regarding her family that was confirmed by her parents.This research enabled her to begin to investigate and document the genealogy of her own family. She traced her family roots to the mid-17th century in St. Mary’s County. Flower of the Forest was the name of land her grandparents purchased there.
Her paternal grandfather, Henry Kane, was born a slave on the Sotterley Plantation in Hollywood, Maryland in 1860. The Kane family’s relationship with Sotterley Plantation was re-established in 1976 because of Agnes’ research. The Sotterley Foundation invited Agnes to join the Board of Trustees in 1990. Her work with the board continued after her tenure expired.
She was instrumental in obtaining the more than $30,000 needed to restore the original slave cabin. In honor of Black History Month, a program profiling the Kane family was televised February 3, 2010. Historic Sotterley, Inc. granted permission for St. Mary’s County Government to air the program on County Government Channel 98. In 2012, the Sotterley Board designated her as the first Trustee Emeritus.
A frequent columnist for The Catholic Review, Agnes wrote about Colonial Maryland and the role played by people of African descent. In 1979, Agnes published her first book, Kane Butler Genealogy–History of a Black Family. This was followed by 25 volumes of Flower of the Forest, a black genealogic journal published annually for 25 years. A tenacious researcher, she produced additional books, including 7th Regiment USCT of Maryland (United States Colored Troops), documenting the names of those colored troops who served in the Civil War, Slave Statistics, Black Marriages of St Mary’s County, and Black Marriages of Anne Arundel County, Maryland. In 2006, a complete collection of her work was donated to the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture in Baltimore. Through 16 volumes of her historical and genealogical journal Flower of the Forest, Agnes produced a scholarly work that is essential in understanding slavery in Maryland and other slave-holding states.
Her work with Sotterley Plantation has helped to foster relationships between descendants of the enslaved and slave owners, and the larger community. Agnes’ career helped pave the way for future generations of genealogists and scholars interested in African American records. She laid out a framework for how to successfully trace the life of individuals of African descent.
Her recognition was forever preserved when she was inducted into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame in 2014. She continued to be a passionate historian of African American history until as recent as three weeks before her death on July 22, 2015.
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