‘His story deserves to be widely known’ — Proposal would rename Montrose Parkway for abolitionist Josiah Henson

Among the list of site plan reviews and budget analyses on the Montgomery County Planning Board’s agenda for Thursday is one historic item: Item #7 calls for renaming Montrose Parkway the Josiah Henson Parkway.

Bethesda Beat first reported the historic item under consideration.

If that name sounds familiar, that’s likely in part, due to the work that led to the establishment of the Josiah Henson Museum and Park, on the site of the former plantation where Henson was enslaved from 1795 to 1830.

Henson eventually escaped to Canada with his wife and family, helped establish a settlement there and led 118 other enslaved people from the U.S. to freedom.

Henson’s autobiography, “The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada” inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Stowe’s novel was known both in the U.S. and abroad, and Henson’s work as an abolitionist made him hugely influential.

Montgomery County Council member Hans Riemer is among those supporting the move.

Riemer told WTOP that there’s a connection between Henson and the current Montrose Parkway. “It goes right through the land that was the farm, or plantation, where he was enslaved, where he was the farm manager,” said Riemer.

Henson’s role in the abolitionist movement in the 19th century is hard to overstate, said Riemer.

“His story deserves to be widely known, and Montgomery County should celebrate it. He is our homegrown hero,” he said.

Planning Director Gwen Wright wrote in the documents regarding the name change that “The current renaming proposal is not being done to correct an inequity and there is no concern about the Montrose name, but rather to commemorate an important historic figure — Josiah Henson — who stood up as a freedom fighter.”

There is another landmark Riemer thinks should bear Henson’s name: Charles Woodward High School, which is also along Old Georgetown Road, across the street from the museum named for Henson. That change would be up to the Montgomery County Board of Education.

The high school had been used as a holding facility over the years, including housing Tilden Middle School before 2020. The new high school under construction will house Northwood High School between September 2023 and August 2025. Woodward High School would then reopen in 2025.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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