Portsmouth to Celebrate Emancipation Day on September 22


PORTSMOUTH – The Portsmouth Unity Project invites area residents to this year’s celebration of Emancipation Day – the Anniversary of President Lincoln’s announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862.

Scheduled for Thursday, September 22nd, 2022, this year’s celebration includes an award’s ceremony honoring the late Jeremy Burnside, a community gospel choir directed by Rev. Ralph Clay, and an Underground Railroad walking tour led by Andrew Feight, Professor of American History. The celebration’s opening and awards ceremony will begin at 5:30pm in the Morris University Center Ballroom at Shawnee State University; after a brief intermission, the celebration will resume at 6:30pm at Portsmouth’s First Presbyterian Church – the first stop on the new Underground Railroad walking tour and the host the celebration’s gospel music program.

Project organizer, and Portsmouth resident, Gerald Cadogan, said, “Come join us in celebrating Emancipation Day on September 22 as we highlight diversity in Portsmouth’s past history as well as honoring current impactful members of our community.”

With the goal of healing racial divides and bridging old divisions, the Portsmouth Unity Project aims to create transformative artistic and educational experiences that inspire and highlight all faces and races in the Portsmouth area.

Since September 2020, the Unity Project has completed seven murals in the city, which include the “Band Together” mural, celebrating the life of Portsmouth native and jazz legend, Stuff Smith, and other unity-themed murals on the exterior walls of Earth Candy Farmacy, Ascend Counseling and Recovery Services, the River City Adventure Company, the McKinley Memorial Pool, and the SOMC Cancer Center. Additionally, the Portsmouth Unity Project, in partnership with Main Street Portsmouth, installed a series of Unity-themed historical banners on streetlamps on Chillicothe and Second Streets. The banners highlighted Portsmouth “Dreamers and Builders” who played important roles in the struggle for freedom and equality.

Emancipation Day marks the anniversary of President Lincoln’s first announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation, which would free slaves in rebellious states and open US armed forces to African American enlistment. Portsmouth residents, white and black, played critical roles in the ratification of the 13th Amendment, which banned slavery throughout the United States. The city’s interracial network of abolitionists and Underground Railroad operators nurtured two Congressmen – James Ashley, who is recognized as the author of the 13th Amendment and Wells A. Hutchins, the only Ohio Democratic Congressman to cross party-lines to support ratification, supplying one of the critical votes needed to secure its passage.

Project historian, Andrew Feight, notes that “Portsmouth helped abolish slavery and its diverse community of men and women have long worked together to advance the cause of equality in southern Ohio and the larger United States. The Unity Project hopes to reclaim and celebrate this history and, thereby, inspire our fellow community members today to “Stand Together, here.”

Beginning at 6:30pm, First Presbyterian Church will host an open house and a community gospel music program, highlighting the Church’s involvement in the Underground Railroad and antislavery movement. Elder Ralph Clay, Director of the Emancipation Day Gospel Choir, noted that “The Choir is a diverse selection of people from various local Church Choirs, many of whom performed during the 2020 & 2021 Gospel Choir Concerts held at Tracy Park. This year we will sing a selection of songs pertaining to escaping from slavery. It is truly a pleasure to gather people together to celebrate and educate our community.”

Rev. Ron Johnson of First Presbyterian notes that “a few steps into the main entrance of the church, passing two nondescript hideaways for slaves seeking freedom and a new life, there is another room that seeks to tell a story, asking – Who are we? Who is God calling us to be? and Who is our neighbor? We are one. We stand together, here. And, we joyously look forward to the celebration.”

Following the music program, Prof. Feight will demonstrate the Scioto Historical mobile app’s new Underground Railroad walking tour of downtown Portsmouth. Developed by the Center for Public History at Shawnee State University, Scioto Historical 4.0 is a free educational mobile app and website that that puts the history of Portsmouth, Ohio, and the surrounding Appalachian region in the palm of your hand. Organizers estimate the walking tour will take about 45 minutes to accomplish.

The celebration, music program, and walking tour are all free and open to the public.

Development of the new walking tour was made possible, in part, by Ohio Humanities, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this application and program do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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