William “Bill” Lewis used his blacksmithing talents to buy his entire family’s freedom. Frederick Douglass, understanding the power of literacy, taught himself how to read and write. James Smith made it across the Ohio River thanks, in large part, to his hunting dog, Zeus.
Such profound emancipation stories about survival and resilience will be featured during a community-wide celebration of Juneteenth, a national recognition day that commemorates the ending of slavery in America; News of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, signed in 1863, didn’t reach the western-most portion of the U.S. until two years later.
The event, which will be held Wednesday, June 19, is being coordinated by the University of Findlay’s Mazza Museum and by the Arts and Heritage Council (a division of the Hancock County Convention & Visitors Bureau). It will have as a focus several original works of art from the Museum’s “Miles of Bravery: The Underground Railroad through Picture Books” exhibit, which is scheduled to be displayed at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio in 2020.
Free family-friendly activities suitable for all ages will take place from noon to 8 p.m. that day at various locations. Visitors are welcome to drop in at any time during those hours to learn and understand more about the Juneteenth and the Underground Railroad. The activities will align with displayed artwork from books such as “Hammering for Freedom,” written by Rita Lorraine Hubbard and illustrated by John Holyfield; “Ain’t Nobody a Stranger to Me,” written by Ann Grifalconi and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney; and “Night Running: How James Escaped with the Help of His Faithful Dog,” written by Elisa Carbone and illustrated by E.B. Lewis.
The celebration will commence with a brown bag lunch at University of Findlay’s Alumni Memorial Union featuring speaker Cathy Nelson, an Underground Railroad expert. Nelson, a retired Columbus City Schools teacher and Friends of Freedom Society founder, has testified to Congress on behalf of the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Act of 1997. She and her extensive research have won numerous awards and widespread recognition.
Nelson’s 1-hour presentation will be co-hosted by UF, the Hancock County Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Hancock Historical Museum. Registration is requested by visiting HancockHistoricalMuseum.org. Lunch attendees who wish to order a boxed meal in advance must register.
Lunch participants may also stop by the Mazza Museum to learn more about the Underground Railroad, which served as a vital survival network for escaped slaves heading north to achieve freedom; and may visit the museum’s book store and gift shop, which will have several books for sale that feature artwork included in the Juneteenth celebration.
Other organizations participating in the Juneteenth celebration will include:
- Black Heritage Library and Multicultural Center
- Findlay Art League
- Findlay-Hancock County Public Library
- Hancock Historical Museum
- Marathon Center for the Performing Arts
- Paint and Partake Studio
For each location visited, young visitors can collect a sticker with information about the art and artist. Also included will be tips for caregivers on how to talk with children about the sensitive topic of slavery.
Because of its inherent secrecy, which was required for its success, much information about the Underground Railroad, especially the “conductors” who cared for and hid escaped slaves, along with the residents and business that made possible such activity, had not been recorded. Teeple said Hancock County historians are convinced that some regional locations were part of the Underground Railroad, but information doesn’t exist that can authenticate that. However, the Juneteenth “Miles of Bravery” debut will offer inspired imagery to help educate and incite conversation.
The Mazza Museum’s “Miles of Bravery” collection includes poignant and powerful art that depicts universal themes about perseverance, friendship, community, morality, determination, faith, and hope amidst great suffering and fear. According to Museum Deputy Director Kerry Teeple, Ed.D., the pieces collectively reflect three key social justice tenets: being brave, speaking out, and helping others.
“Miles of Bravery” is the result of Teeple’s efforts to increase the Museum’s art holdings related to African American history, particularly slavery. With Ohio serving as a gateway to freedom for thousands escaping slavery in the south, and its abolitionist history, Teeple felt the museum’s art collection should reflect a more robust black history perspective.
Thanks to a generous donor who gave $15,000 toward the effort, along with several works donated by artists and others, the Museum collected 70 additional pieces that movingly portray America’s slavery past.
The artwork, books, and messaging selected for Juneteenth displays and activities were carefully vetted for accuracy, authenticity, and subject sensitivity. Teeple said the Museum and its community partners want to remain ethically committed in theory and practice. Therefore, they solicited advice from some of the African American artists whose works will be shown.
Following the community’s Juneteenth celebration, the Museum will work with the Underground Railroad Freedom Center to finalize the exhibition, which will open at that location on Feb. 20 and run through May. Afterward, the art will back north to the Mazza Museum, stopping along the way for exhibit at some key Underground Railroad locations in the state.