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"There are a lot of people who don't know who Langston is and what he accomplished," Smith said. "This house is amazing, and I plan to take some of it back with me to share with my students."

Olivia Cousins
Photo by Darryl Polk
As Cousins led her brief tour, it became easy to appreciate her frustrations. Chipped paint, aluminum siding, and overgrown weeds made it difficult to imagine the building's historic significance, not to mention its architectural genius. The two-story building, while plain in style by today's standards, once boasted brilliant Gothic Revival and Italianate features. A wide, long front porch--uncommon for its time--was missing several boards, and the details of two tall, intricately carved narrow doors were barely visible from the street under their seal of white paint. The home's once stately wooden columns have long been replaced by iron supports.

"Many homes on the Underground Railroad are owned by white people who tell stories about the routes from their own eyes," said Cousins. "When you tell a story that's not yours, it comes out differently. I always wanted to own a home on the Underground Railroad--to keep alive the stories people rarely talk about. The Langston House, with its rich history, is an ideal setting from which to tell these stories."

Jason Clark '02 was the treasurer of OSCA/OSCA Properties when the home was put up for sale. He said the house had an estimated 125 years of white ownership, which is ironic, considering that Langston himself spent a lifetime in the defense and uplifting of black people.

"Langston was a very proud person, and this physical representation of his autonomy was owned by white people," said Clark, himself a descendant of the famous American explorer William Clark. "My family background has made me aware of how history lives in the present. It gives all of us endowed responsibilities."

In searching for potential owners, Clark, along with OSCA president Forrest Crawford '02 and members Kasi Chakravartula '02 and Amber McMillan '03, made every effort to identify a person or organization who would appreciate the significance of Langston House and commit to its renovation.

"Dr. Cousins was pretty excited, and she had definite plans for the property," said Clark, referring to Cousins' vision of creating an African American artist-in-residence program in conjunction with the College and converting the house into a combination living museum and educational resource/community center. Cousins also hopes to initiate a Langston speaker series and offer tours and workshops to local schoolchildren.

"The home's continuing significance to the African American community in Oberlin persuaded OSCA to vote for its sale to Dr. Cousins," said Clark. The property changed hands officially in July 2002.

Although enthusiastic about her plans, challenges still loom for Cousins. She relies on community volunteers for minor repairs to the house, but admits to needing more help and money before tackling larger renovation and resurfacing projects. Soon, she said, she hopes to resign as chair of the health education department at the Borough of Manhattan Community College in New York and relocate to Oberlin.

"I consider myself a steward of this property, my hope being to share Langston's life and home with others."

Courtney Mauk '03 contributed to this story.