PORTSMOUTH — In an event honoring local champions of equal rights, the Portsmouth Unity Art Project will reestablish the city’s traditional celebration of Emancipation Day – the Anniversary of Lincoln’s announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves in the rebellious states and opened the U.S. armed forces to African American enlistment.
Scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 22, 2020, the celebration will be held at Tracy Park and marks the launch of the Unity Project’s “Stand Together. here.” campaign.
Like other diverse, rural communities in Appalachia, Portsmouth residents have struggled with systemic and other forms of racism and sexism for decades. With the goal of healing these wounds and bridging these old divisions, the Project aims to broaden the foundation of the community’s on-going efforts at economic revitalization.
The Project has chosen Emancipation Day 2020 for the kick-off of their new campaign because Portsmouth area abolitionists, white and black, played critical roles in the ratification of the 13th Amendment. Portsmouth’s biracial network of Underground Railroad operators nurtured two abolitionist 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 in 1865.
Portsmouth helped abolish slavery and its diverse community of men and women (white, black and indigenous) have long united to advance the cause of equality in Portsmouth and the larger United States. The Unity Project hopes to reclaim and celebrate this history and, thereby, inspire community members of today to “Stand Together. here.”
Project organizer, and Portsmouth resident, Gerald Cadogen, said, “Portsmouth is widely known for its historic Flood Wall murals and we hope the Unity Art Project will build upon that well-earned reputation. The new ‘Stand Together, here’ banner campaign is just the start of our initiative, which plans include the commissioning of large-scale unity-themed outdoor murals and public art installations that will be located throughout the city and suburbs.”
The Emancipation Day Celebration will mark the installation of the Project’s new streetlamp banners, which rebranding banner initiative was born at a 2019 Downtown Revitalization Summit sponsored by local charitable resource, the Scioto Foundation and with Main Street Portsmouth involvement. The historical banners run up and down Chillicothe and Second Streets with a diverse bracket system that can be utilized in the future for similar banner initiatives such as honoring veterans by other groups.
Bryan Smith of the Friends of Portsmouth, which nonprofit organization has partnered with the Project, has worked with City Manager Sam Sutherland to install the new series of unity-themed historical banners. “The series will honor 23 Portsmouth “Dreamers and Builders” who advanced the cause of liberty and equality. Additionally, the Project will install eight banners with the slogan, “Stand Together, here,” at street intersections on Chillicothe Street, each with a different design by a local project artist, which includes April Deacon, Dominique Johnson, Kayla Perry, Monalisa Poxes, Connor Sherman, Nick Sherman, Klaire Smith and Ron Williams.
Project historian, professor Andrew Lee Feight of Shawnee State University, notes that “From the days of the Underground Railroad to the decades’ long campaign for women’s suffrage and the struggle to integrate Portsmouth’s public schools and swimming pools, Portsmouth’s past is full of inspirational men and women of all races and party affiliation, Republican and Democrat, who stood together and broke down the barriers to equality and advanced the cause of liberty.”
Inspired by recent national racial issues, Committee Member, Gary Hairston, said, “The mission statement of the “Portsmouth Unity Project” Team is to create and maintain a better sense of community pride that will unite the entire diverse population of Portsmouth. For this event, we’ve opted to take a historical approach to help foster community pride by highlighting/revisiting the significant careers and accomplishments of past and present residents of Portsmouth, Ohio.”
The Emancipation Day program at Tracy Park will include a banner recognition ceremony starting at 5:30 p.m., which includes a keynote address by former National League batting champion, Al Oliver. Al was part of the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirate team that was Major League Baseball’s first all-minority lineup and he is featured on one of the new historical banners.
Immediately after the ceremony, participants can stay and listen to music offered by community leader, Ralph Clay, who serves as the assistant pastor at Christ Community Church, or they may take the walking theatrical tour of the newly installed banners, featuring live actors portraying the historical figures thereupon featured. Organizers estimate the tour will take about 45 minutes to accomplish, a 0.75-mile journey through Portsmouth’s amazing civil and equal rights history. Access Scioto County will provide shuttles back to Tracy Park when the tours are concluded.
The celebration in Tracy Park, along with the music is free to the public. The walking theatrical tour tickets are $2.00 each and can be purchased in advance at https://uniteportsmouth.eventbrite.com. The Friends of Portsmouth’s “Boost Our Kids” program will offer tickets to individuals and families who cannot afford the price. Due to the COVID-19 emergency, the groups will be limited to 10 people in the individual groups, participants of which will be required to wear masks to protect themselves and the actors. While the ceremony itself has no attendance limits subject to social distancing markings, the walking theatrical tour will be capped at 20 groups.
Please contact Jeremy Burnside at (740) 353-2363 for additional information or email him at [email protected]