“This is an African American Heritage Celebration modeled after the August 8 Emancipation celebration with roots here in Western Kentucky,” said Park Manager John Rittenhouse.
Recreation Director Jenny Howard said that the music in the Convention Center “raised the roof.”
Historian William Turner said that the event began in 1863, with an order from then Military Governor of Tennessee Andrew Johnson’s decree to free slaves within the territory.
Erma J. Bush of the Kentucky Chautauqua players presented her one-woman show, “Miss Dinnie Thompson, No Ordinary Woman.” In her program, Bush, dressed in the garb of Thompson, delivered a monologue in character about the life an emancipated slave, in retrospective from 1936.
Born in 1857, Bush narrated Thompson’s life, from experiences on a hemp plantation in Louisville named Farmington. She explained the term “Sold down the river,” to be a literal term, with the experience of a boy suspected of setting a fire. She described the anguish of the boy’s mother as he entered new servitude “down the river” in Mississippi.
Bush said that 57 African-American slaves saw to the needs of 13 whites at the plantation. When the owner of the plantation died, slaves were divided among his heirs, further destroying the family life of slaves. Several times, Bush described how Thompson’s mother came in the night whispering tales of “sweet freedom” across the Ohio River.
On multiple occasions, Thompson and her mother attempted to reach the free north by boat. In one account, Thompson’s mother paid a boatman to bring them across the Ohio to liberty. The boatman notified escaped patrollers of the escape and betrayed the women to slavery.
With the capture of Louisville by the Union, several black men volunteered to fight against the Confederacy, to bring freedom to others. “The white men in the army didn’t want no colored soldiers fighting alongside them. Some of the white Union soldiers shot them deliberately,” said Bush.
“After the war, we took jobs wherever we could find them. They might have been the same jobs we did as slaves, but we did them as free men,” she said.
Bush said that the end of the war brought grief with the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. “I was eight when Lincoln was killed. The colored folk thought the world was at an end. Mama and I went to Indianapolis to see Lincoln. There were black banners draped everywhere, and it was raining. It looked like everything was crying black tears for him. When I got to see him, he was the longest man I had ever seen. His face was bronze. When he died, his face turned black, and the undertaker tried to make him look lifelike by putting powder on his face.”
For the rest of this story, read this week's Cadiz Record