To celebrate Black History, on each Thursday of February, we at Eagle Eye are going to tell the story of the lives of one of the men and woman buried in Mt. Zion/Female Union Band Society Cemetery in Georgetown. These are some of the stories that our students uncovered in our Headstones and History: Black Lives Matter(ed) during the past summer. The people whose lives we are celebrating have been selected to highlight what we feel are essential elements of the African American experience. Today’s individual was a teacher and testimony to the relentless push toward education that animated Georgetown’s African American community both before the Civil War and afterward.
The Evening Star reported that July 30, 1858 was the hottest day of the year: two workers from the Water Works died of heatstroke that day. It was also the day on which Mary Lucy Beason was born to her mother Hannah Beason, making her enslaver wealthier.
Mary and Hannah, along with Lucy Bowles, Mary’s grandmother and Hannah’s mother, all make their first appearance in official documents in 1862. In that year, all enslaved people in Washington, DC and Georgetown were emancipated by the federal government and their enslavers received money from the federal government to compensate them for the financial hit. How much they received depended on how valuable the enslaved were deemed to be. The enslavers’ petitions were recorded by a commission, and this is where we find Mary, Hannah, and Lucy. Mary is described as three feet tall with large black eyes. Hannah is 22 years old with dark round eyes, scars on both sides of her mouth. Lucy, aged 49, is reported to be a good cook and to have “a rather pleasant countenance” in spite of having lost her front teeth.
Just 15 years later, Mary was in the first class to graduate from Preparatory High in Washington. For much of her life, Mary lived with her mother and many of her siblings in Georgetown on Dumbarton and then on P St. in the neighborhood east of Wisconsin Avenue known as Herring Hill. She was a devout member of Mt. Zion United Methodist Church and an officer in the Epworth League – a Methodist association for young adults. Now, here’s the amazing part. Although, Hannah never learned to read or write, clearly education was a priority in her: Mary and two of her other daughters became school teachers – a highly prestigious career, but one with costs. In the early twentieth century, female teachers were not allowed to marry, so deciding to become a teacher was a pretty serious commitment. Mary Lucy Beason died in July 1909 at the age of 50 after a period of poor health, which the Evening Star noted, that did not prevent her from heroically finishing up her final term. The Washington Bee called her “one of the best known teachers in the public schools.”