OUS festival has community involvement

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 3, 2008

America was founded on the principle of freedom but the long road to achieve that ideal will be the focus in September with a celebration centered on southern Ohio’s history and heritage.

With hopes of creating an annual tradition, Ohio University Southern faculty and administrators are preparing to host the first ever Freedom Festival Sept. 19-22 with movies, fieldtrips, historic re-enactors, lectures and other events to celebrate the path our nation has taken to freedom.

Designed for the entire community and for students to earn college credits, OUS is offering a variety of free educational presentations about the Underground Railroad, Proclamation of Emancipation as a document, President Abraham Lincoln’s leadership, Lawrence County’s residents assisting slaves and much more.

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“The entire nation is taking a new look at the idea of diversity,” said Dr. Dave Lucas, a Freedom Festival committee member and the acting associate dean at OUS. “The university operates in a very powerful way for (this area) as a safe haven for people to consider and discuss ideas.”

As a history professor about to enter his 42nd year, Bob Leith knows a thing or two about the past. But the educator is excited about the educational opportunity this event could provide to the leaders of tomorrow.

“For kids from kindergarten up through college and beyond, we would like to give them the experience of being involved, being a part of the learning,” said Leith, one of the members of the organizing committee. “They can see history recreated and get a feel for what it was like long ago.”

Lawrence County was part of the Underground Railroad route and abolitionists were employed by Ironton founder and ironmaster John Campbell to help them to freedom.

Diversity is a key element of what makes us American and this is an opportunity for the need and advantages of that to be discussed, Lucas said.

The courses and presentations will teach students and visitors about hymns, slaves in the big house, in the fields and in their own homes, producing iron, the Lincoln-Douglas debates in Illinois and many other topics will be shared.

President Abraham Lincoln, Senator Stephen A. Douglas, fervent abolitionist the Rev. John Rankin and runaway slave/woman’s right advocate Sojourner Truth are a few of the notable presenters.

For Leith, this type of opportunity puts the fun back into education, something he said modern society may sometime lose focus of, and showcase the role southern Ohio played in the Civil War and our nation’s path to freedom.

“We just want to provide some insight into the past and share some knowledge of all the great people and great heritage in our nation,” Leith said.

All students will be required to read “Narrative of The Life of Fredrick Douglass, An African Slave” and “Harriet Jacob’s Incidents in the life of a Slave Girl.”

Anyone interested will also have the opportunity to travel to Kentucky to visit the Harriet B. Stowe and National Underground Railroad Museums, the homes of members in former President Lincoln’s family and other points of interest and historical sites.

Lucas said the American social structure could be improved through people being aware and gaining knowledge about equality and diversity.

“You have some of the finest minds at the university,” Lucas said. “They are qualified, well educated renowned instructors. (The courses) will engage students, help them to have open minds and lead them to greater thought.”

The university will host a press conference at 3 p.m. August 8. The event is open to the public.

For more information, call Steve Call at 1-740-533-4559, Dave Surgalski at 1-740-533-4617, Dr. Robert Culp at 1-304-634-6092 or Tom Suter at 1-740-533-4565.