Portsmouth celebrates Emancipation Day

McKenzie Maple reenacting Besty Mix Cowles to a group of tour participants during Emancipation Day events at tracy Park.

Gerald Cadogan presenting Al Oliver a framed copy of his Banner that is hung in downtown Portsmouth

Al Oliver speaking to the crowd at Tracy park during the Emancipation Day celebration

Holly Hempill reenacting Amanda Purcell to a group as they learn about the role Purcell played in Portsmouth during the Civil War.

PORTSMOUTH — Residents took a trip back in time, as honest Abe read the Emancipation Proclamation in honor of Emancipation Day at Tracy Park.

In celebration of Emancipation Day and the start of the Portsmouth Unity Arts Project, residents had the opportunity to learn about some historical civil rights icons that lived and helped in Portsmouth. During the ceremony, which took place at Tracy Park Tuesday, participants heard from members of the community about uniting the community and honored those who helped with street banners displayed around downtown Portsmouth.

“We can’t change Columbus. We can’t change New York. We can’t change Chicago, but we can start right here in Scioto County and do something together,” organizer of Portsmouth Unity Arts Project, Gerald Cadogan, said to a socially distanced crowd.

Before groups went tour visiting reenactors of historical civil rights icons positioned down Chillicothe Street and Second Street, a reenactor of Abraham Lincoln took to the stage at the park to read the Emancipation Proclamation. Cadogan shared with the audience he came up with Portsmouth Unity Arts Project to build unity in the Scioto County communities and stand together.

“That message of togetherness is what you will see along your tour this evening,” Cadogan said. “You will see different pillars of our community along with the traffic lights themselves that all say stand together. I challenge you to stand together, and you will see more projects from us, to pray together, to eat together, to sing together and that emphasis of togetherness is what this project and event tonight is all about.”

During the ceremony, Cadogan introduced Kelly Babcock, who designed the street banners and helped get the project off the ground.

“We’ve now created 43 biographical banners that you’ll see lining Chillicothe and Second Street,” Babcock said. “These biographical banners highlight local advocates for equality and these pieces were created by a diverse group of local artists.”

Wrapping up the ceremony Shawnee State University Professor and local historian Dr. Andrew Feight presented four copies of the banners to civil rights icons families or to Scioto County icons still alive today. Among the four presented a personal copy of their banner was keynote speaker and Portsmouth icon Al Oliver, a graduate of Portsmouth High School and professional baseball player, seven-time All-Star, who played on the first all-black starting lineup in major league history and won the World Series in 1971.

“It’s not every day you get to introduce a living legend among you and he definitely does not need an introduction, but it’s a pleasure to introduce Al Oliver,” Cadogan said as the crowd cheered.

Oliver shared that throughout his career, he would always tell his teammates the history of Portsmouth.

“I would always tell my teammates if you want to know anything about history, you come to Portsmouth, Ohio,” Oliver said.

Oliver said that Portsmouth has had the greatest history per capita of any city in the nation. Oliver also shared that he was glad to see a mixture of black and white people in the audience.

“When we come together as one, there is nothing we can’t do,” Oliver said. “When I leave here today, I want everyone to think about this. One of these days, all of us are going to have to come to the table. When we all come to the table and sit down and talk with one another, we all will find out that there is no difference in us because of color or whatever it might be. When we come together as one, all things are possible.”

Once the ceremony was finished, groups headed out around downtown Portsmouth for a historical walking tour. Participants learned and met with reenactors of many of the civil rights advocates on the 43 banners throughout Portsmouth.

“There are so many people in Portsmouth who fought in the civil war and fought for equality and freedom for all we are going to take a moment to remember all of them,” Holly Gail Hempill said, who was reenacting Amanda Purcell. “Fun fact the very first Memorial Day was actually held in Portsmouth at Greenlawn Cemetery.”

Hempill shared that she felt honored to reenact Purcell who was know for starting the Soldiers Aid Society and help raise funds for the men of Portsmouth who responded to President Abraham Lincoln’s call.

“It really important to recognize how progressive Portsmouth was at that time because it probably wasn’t a popular opinion to jump ship and fight in the war,” Hempill said. “I hope that Portsmouth can lead by example yet again, to inspire other communities to show we don’t have to be so divided.”

The Portsmouth Unity Arts Project plans to host more events in the future to bring the community together.

Reach Adam Black at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1927, or by email at ablack@aimmediamidwest.com.© 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved