Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of citizens in local and national history.
Sunday at the 14th Street Community Center was such a day of reflection and honor. The Black History Expo was a diverse collaboration – between many dedicated and caring people. Leaders of the African American community, as well as Shawnee State University and others, worked hard to put it all together.
Display tables showed off many types of African inspired art, as stories were told, and local Black History was shared. Tales that were unknown to many were shared throughout the event. Many local folks attended the free event to show support and to partake of the appetizing food available.
The Expo began with a welcome by Amanda Lewis, who introduced the program agenda. Elder Carlton Cave, then proceeded with prayer before the meal was served. At 2:30, the “soul” food was served to all in attendance. There was plenty of food to go around and no one went hungry. As everyone there ate their meal, it was a chance to visit and share tales of the history that abound in Portsmouth’s community.
“I spoke last year about Dr. James F. Scott, who was the longest-serving coroner in Scioto County,” Planning Committee member Gary Hairston said. “Dr. Scott would deliver babies at homes, due to area hospitals that wouldn’t permit African Americans in the hospital. One of his most famous deliveries was that of Kathleen Deanna Battle.”
Hairston shared that Battle was Born Aug. 13, 1948, she had immense talent and went on to become an operatic soprano known for her distinctive vocal range and tone. Hairston explained that he was asked to speak again and he accepted.
“I was asked to speak again on Dr. Scott, but since I had spoken on Dr. Scott last year, I thought I would speak of Chuck Ealey, local football player who played at Portsmouth Notre Dame High School in the late sixties,” Hairston said. “Ealey went on to lead Notre Dame to a State Championship in 1967.”
Hairston lived and was educated in the Farley Square area. He was in the first Scioto County Vocational School graduation class in 1973. He also attended Washington City School, fourth through the sixth grade. When asked about the Expo being a worthwhile endeavor, he responded, “it serves a twofold purpose from my perspective, it educates the young people how the way things were and for older people, a chance to share and tell their story.” He added, “The young people have no idea about the past; I was born in 1952, segregation was alive and well then.”
Black History Month through the eyes of those who lived it, or the stories told to their children, sums up the why – and reasons for the event.
Andrew Feight, a history professor at Shawnee State University, met with the 14th Street Community Center and from that point on, the Black History Month Expo started to blossom.
“We had the makings for an Expo.” Feight said his research had led him “to figure out the location of John J. Minor, a local black barber from around the 1850s – 1880s who was a station chief for the underground railroad.”
Through the research of Feight, the Underground Railroad is becoming more visible. “Abolitionists in Portsmouth had to keep a low profile as the majority of the population supported slavery laws.”
A display of African American Americana adorned a row of tables. The collection was of African Americans that were on flour bags, advertising signs, and various containers of all types. This was a testament to the times of growing pains and lack of tolerance.
The collection belonged to Maureen Cadogan, 14th Street Community Center Director, who quipped “I have been collecting for over 25 years.”
The collection Maureen said, “was from estate sales and from people that got them from their parents and grandparents.”
Asked if the Expo is worth the effort, she replied emphatically – “Absolutely – kids today don’t even know; you have to share with them these stories. You have to know where you have been, to get to where we’re going,” Maureen said.
The Black History Month Expo doubled in attendance from last year and organizers hope the success will continue to grow.