Let Freedom Ring

Published 2:00 pm Tuesday, September 23, 2008

At least in the movies, time travel is conducted by means of some futuristic box or even a DeLorean car.

But Monday, some area school children took a trip back in time simply by boarding an ordinary school bus.

Once transported, figuratively and literally, to the Lawrence County Courthouse lawn, they came face to face with two of the most influential people in American history: President Abraham Lincoln, whose Emancipation Proclamation on Sept. 22, 1862, freed slaves in southern states and freed slave-turned-abolitionist Sojourner Truth.

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The visits by Truth and Lincoln — played by Annette Jefferson and James Getty, respectively — were the grand finale in a weekend-long series of activities in the first-ever Freedom Festival. Sponsored by Ohio University Southern, the festival, mostly presented at the university campus, was meant to inspire area residents to reflect on “how precious our freedom is,” OUS professor Steve Call explained.

Call said he also wanted those who attended— and that included scores of adults as well as children—to understand who Lincoln was and why his leadership more than 100 years ago changed the face of America forever.

For 8-year-old Ironton student Tayah Brickey-Scott, her few hours away from school was a chance for her “to see President Lincoln,” she explained. Lincoln, she said, would be easily identifiable: “He’s going to wear a tall hat and he has a beard and he wears a black suit,” she said. Asked if she knew why Lincoln is so admired, Brickey-Scott was not sure. But fellow student Jesse Lancaster did.

“Pennies!” he exclaimed. It is, after all, Lincoln’s face that is on the penny.

Brickey-Scott and Lancaster were less sure of who Sojourner Truth was or why her visit was so important.

Lincoln explained to the crowd that Monday was the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. He explained what events had led him first to hesitate to take the action he eventually undertook and then what changed his mind.

The Emancipation Proclamation, he said, was “not merely for today but for all future time.”

Truth, born in New York, reminded the crowd that even northern states had slaves, though slavery is often incorrectly considered a southern problem.

Truth told of her early years —she did not know how old she really was or when her birthday was because no vital records were kept of slaves — of being sold and sold again, five times in all, until she came to live on the Dumont property. Her master had first freed her elderly parents but not her or her brother, both young enough to work the fields.

Angered that Dumont had first promised freedom and then went back on his word, she escaped from him with only the youngest of her five children. She was taken in by a family who first gave her shelter and then bought her and her child to keep them away from the angry former owner.

Once freed, she changed her name during a call from God and began as an activist to end slavery. Her travels even took her to the White House to meet Lincoln.

Monday’s event was marked with all the pomp and circumstance that would have befitted people of that stature during that period. They were accompanied by local dignitaries wearing period clothing. Lincoln even rode a horse across the lawn.

Asked afterward what she thought of the visit by Lincoln and Truth, Brickey-Scott replied, “It was cool.”

And that was the point, Call said. Freedom Festival was meant to bring yesteryear into vivid focus.

“We do a lot of things where we go out and experience things at a destination,” Call explained. “This time we brought it here and turned Ironton into a destination – and to bring history alive.”