Meet the women behind the celebration

Charlotte Coffield (left) and Patricia Tyson (right).

In April 2018, Lyttonsville residents Charlotte Coffield and Patricia Tyson convened a meeting in the Gwendolyn E. Coffield Community Recreation Center to begin planning the Talbot Avenue Bridge Centennial celebration. Residents from neighborhoods adjacent to the bridge — Lyttonsville, North Woodside, and Rosemary Hills — were invited to participate. Also invited were Silver Spring residents with an interest in the bridge’s history.

Ms. Tyson and Ms. Coffield are lifelong Lyttonsville residents. They are part of the community’s collective memory and they are among the surviving keepers of its traditions. They were featured in the 2017 documentary film, The Bridge, and they frequently speak at public events uplifting Lyttonsville’s history and the story of the Black experience in Montgomery County.

The first meeting was held April 25, 2018. Ms. Tyson explained the project’s goals and her vision for the celebration. She then explained how she wanted the planning to proceed by breaking the group up into subcommittees responsible for general program planning, publicity, fundraising, volunteer coordination, etc. All decisions about the celebration, from the entertainment to the invited speakers to the type of refreshments and food would be made by the entire committee.

Patricia Tyson (left), former River Road resident Harvey Matthews (center), and Charlotte Coffield (right) share their life stories at the Talbot Avenue Bridge Park pop-up, April 21, 2018.

The Talbot Avenue Bridge is an important part of both women’s lives. “We could sit on our porch down on Kansas Avenue and it seemed like you could hear the boards rattling as people came across,” Ms. Tyson recalls. “But it’s now a symbol of history.”

“The Talbot Avenue Bridge has always been there throughout my entire lifetime,” says Ms. Coffield. “We could tell who was coming and who was going because there weren’t that many cars in the community.”

Since 2016, the bridge has received a lot of attention by historians and the media. That has raised awareness of the bridge’s important civil rights history as a lifeline for the Lyttonsville community and as a powerful and contested symbol with different meanings in Silver Spring’s white and African American communities. Ms. Tyson and Ms. Coffield conceived of the centennial celebration to mark the bridge’s important milestone before it is demolished in 2019 and to continue building new relationships among Lyttonsville and adjacent neighborhoods that the centennial’s planners hope will build new bridges and begin to heal old wounds.

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