GALLIPOLIS — On September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued a preliminary proclamation that he would order the emancipation of all slaves of any state in the confederacy — an executive order later issued on January 1, 1863 — and on September 22, 2012, those dedicated to the history and significance of the Emancipation Proclamation were again gathered together in Gallia County for the nation’s longest running Emancipation Celebration.
The 149th Annual Gallia County Emancipation Celebration was a success again this year as Gallia Countians, former Gallia Countians and visitors to the county gathered to celebrate this year’s theme, “Links in the chain to freedom” at the Gallia County Fairgrounds.
Saturday’s celebration was highlighted by a visit from the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium’s Animal Encounters Program.
The zoo’s appearance at the emancipation is a relatively new one, but is a welcome addition to the many activities featured at the celebration — especially for the younger generation who will carry on the tradition of the Emancipation Celebration in Gallia County.
The Saturday afternoon program also featured reenactor Anthony Gibbs who portrayed John Parker, a Civil War era Underground Railroad conductor who resided in Ripley, Ohio.
Parker, who was sold into slavery at eight years old, later secured his freedom by paying off his master the price for his purchase.
He later moved to Cincinnati and settled in Ripley, Ohio, where he became a foundry owner.
Parker later became an active member of the Underground Railroad and helped hundreds of slaves escape to freedom.
Gibbs portrayal was followed by the Emancipation Scholarship presentation by Arthur Clark.
Clark, originally of Bidwell, has maintained the scholarship program for approximately 15 years and annually awards young men and women of Gallia County who are either attending or set to attend college with scholarship funds.
“I am home. I am always glad to come home. It is a pleasure to come home to the Emancipation Celebration. It’s always a pleasure to present the Emancipation scholars. It’s a pleasure to see family and friends that span generations as the Emancipation Celebrations celebrates its 149th year,” Clark said.
This year’s graduating high school seniors who received scholarships were: Jainai Fields who is graduating from River Valley High School and will be attending Morehead University, Morehead, Kentucky, to study business management; Ciara N. Jackson, a graduating senior at Gallia Academy High School who will be attending the University of Rio Grande to study radiology; and Jessica Dotson, who will graduate this year from Gallia Academy High School and will be attending Shawnee State University, Portsmouth, Ohio, to study early childhood education.
Current college students receiving Emancipation scholarships for their second, third or four years were: Kevin W. Jackson, II, who attends Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, and is studying nursing; Jade Williams who is attending Marshall University to earn a degree in Forensic Chemistry; and Kara R. Jackson who is attending Ohio University to earn a pharmaceutical degree.
In his remarks, Clark praised the hard work of the Emancipation Committee and those early individuals who pushed him to begin the Emancipation Scholarship program.
“Not only is the committee the gatekeeper of what the Gallia County Emancipation has meant through the years. I believe that just as important is that the Emancipation Celebration and the committee continues to be a guiding light. I think it is a beacon, a lighthouse — as we approach 150 historical years — and I’ve had many such individuals, school teachers, administrators, coaches, encouraging me to take one more step,” he said. “Each step, each scholarship, each year that we can enhance the Emancipation Celebration is the least we can do.”
Clark also reminisced on his early years attending the Emancipation Celebration at Bush Park in Bidwell.
“At that time, I did not recognize or appreciate the significance of what the emancipation was and is. It was decades later, when I was invited back to speak, that the significance really started to crystallize in my mind,” he commented. “Nothing lasts this long without great minds using great wills, and making great sacrifices to persevere.”
Keynote speakers for the Saturday program were cousins April Fletcher and Gerry Bass Cain, who, along with April Fletcher’s sister, Melony Fletcher Howard, wrote the non-fiction work “From Plantation to Prisons,” a book that contains the true story of a unique love affair between a master and a slave.
The authors, all natives of Gallia County, wrote the book not only about their family’s journey from slavery, but also the effect of slavery on the country and the current effect the state prison systems has had on the black population.
A total of 12 members of the authors’ family traveled on foot from Halifax, North Carolina, to Gallia County, Ohio, after their master set them free in 1844.
The cousins’ address surrounded the inequalities they believe exist withing the nation’s justice system.
“You might believe [all people are created equal], but it’s not true in the justice system and we’re going to try to tell you why it’s not true today,” Cain said. “Not only are we going to tell you why it’s not true in the justice system, but we are going to challenge you to go out and do something about it.”
Cain and Fletcher provided statistics concerning the prison population of the U.S. and the number of black males incarcerated there.
According to Cain, one in every five black males in the U.S. will spend time in the prison system and there are, reportedly, 13.6 black men in prison to every one white man in prison in Iowa. Similarly, in Minnesota, there are nine black men for every one white male in prison. These numbers are mirrored in every state throughout the country.
“I am here today to tell you that the Devil has declared war on our young people,” Cain said. “We know that with war there’s bloodshed, there’s pain, there’s tears, there’s sorrow, there’s victories and there’s defeat. So, we have to ask ourselves, ‘are we going to celebrate a victory or are we going to go down in defeat?’”
Fletcher reported that the largest percent increase in prison population in recent years has been young black women, and, with an even larger statistic Fletcher reported that there are approximately 3 million children in the United States with a parent in prison.
“Be factually aware of what is going on in the prisons,” Fletcher said.
“While changes have come, His truth is marching on and I just want you to know that we can’t go back,” she added.
During Sunday’s worship service, the Reverend Leon Forté, the senior pastor of Grace Christian Center, Athens, Ohio, and Chaplain at Ohio University, provided the sermon.
Providing Sunday’s keynote address was Charlene E. McGhee Smith, Ph.D., an author and Ohio University Associate Professor.