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Juneteenth celebration approaches


History begins at a different moment for each of us – the moment we realize we have been dropped onto its timeline.

Springfield’s Gammon House will try to stretch our awareness of history’s reach when it celebrates Juneteenth from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday at its 620 Piqua Place address.

This marks the museum’s 12th annual observation of the holiday. The day marks U.S. Gen. Gordon Granger’s June 19, 1865, announcement to people in the Galveston, Texas, area that the Civil War had ended and that former slaves would be henceforth and forever free.

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Someone called 911, but this man’s maple instrument wasn’t a gun. It was a bassoon.

Said event Chairperson Gail Grant, “These were the last group of black people to realize slavery was over.”

Saturday’s celebration will take on some of the family reunion feel Juneteenth has in Texas, where it is a state holiday. The Gammmon House will host a performance by the Thiossane West African Dance Institute of Columbus; hours of music; artisans from the Hertlzer House with their crafts; rides for young children; a water wheel will from the Heritage Center; historic flower and vegetable gardens; and an appearance by the Fifth United States Colored Troops.

(The sweet potato pie contest on the agenda shall go unmentioned here because a certain journalist was not asked to be a judge. What a small person is he.)

Still, history will not be lost in the shuffle.

Those entering the museum through a tent in the back will learn more about the particulars of Juneteenth and the history of the Underground Railroad, of which the Gammon House was a part.

Inside there will be a history of the Gammon Family, members of whom served among the colored troops in the Civil War. Displays addressing the history of blacks in Springfield will also be present. There will be short video interviews of black Springfielders done by Springfield High School film students with the encouragement of The Springfield Chapter of Links, Inc.

The last of these is a timely project that has, as expected, linked people who dropped onto the historical timeline decades apart .

“I was very leery of taking it on,” said Susan Tyner, who teaches the high school’s video journalism class. For one, she knew the project would require work out of class time; for another, the 7:22-8:10 a.m. class time was ill-suited for the schedules of people to be interviewed.

Fortunately, other teachers were “very accommodating” in releasing students for filming sessions, and students seemed to rise to the challenge of something Tyner called both “brand new” to them and “really massive” in scale.

“Each person had about a 45-minute conversation” to work with. Because the person interviewed was shot from two angles to provide visual variety, resulting in resulted in 90 minutes of film that had to be reviewed, edited and reduced to a film roughly five minutes in length.

Fred Almon, a soft spoken junior, whose course transcript includes anatomy, physiology, exercise science and pre-calculus because of his interest in physical therapy, was interested in Roger Evans’ story.

“He didn’t want to go to school after a certain age,” Almon said. Once he graduated from high school, he went into the military, and, having come out, “he didn’t want to wear a uniform anymore.”

Then Evans - who would become Springfield’s police chief - ended up in a police uniform. He said he learned he was accepted to the force before he heard from the U.S. Post Office that a job was available for him there.

Marjorie Maxine Stephens’ stories about her grandson John Legend was of natural interest to now-graduated senior Michael Owens. But he also was struck when Stephens told him it was unusual in her time for a young black person to have a chance to be part of a school choir. “That’s just when things were opening up,” he said.

Transplanted to Springfield two years ago, Owens was planning to use segments of the interview in his capstone project about the history of racism in Ohio. “It was crazy,” he said. “It was a lot of stuff I didn’t know.”

Jessica Santos, who has felt more comfortable doing recording and editing than being in front of the camera, was touched by Kenneth Stone’s stories of growing up poor in Springfield. Although she learned it had a hard edge, she also learned about the sense of togetherness in his Euclid Avenue neighborhood; how he treasured the chance to work a hotel job with his brother; and his memories of playing football at now long closed Keifer Junior High.

Senior Jacob Rogers, who described Charles Beard as “a pretty old dude,” was fascinated by the fact that Beard’s family, which grew up on Springfield’s East Side, where Rogers lives, hunted to put food on the table. Rogers also thought himself into a new situation when he wondered what it might have been like for Beard when he lied about his age to get into the military and then was found out while serving in Europe.

Like others in the class, Rogers felt lucky to have been able to have the opportunity to work with video equipment far advanced from what the people he interviewed.

“I’ve had some good classmates were in the past couple of years. We all work together as a team.”

Elizabeth Suarez not only found Hazel Carter to be a “sweetheart,” but found one aspect of her story particularly insightful. Suarez said Carter described how, being black in Ohio, then moving South for a time, she discovered that she had learned here to follow the same rules of segregation even without the presence of the public signs that more obviously controlled contact between blacks and whites in the South.

Carter also passed along the story of how light skinned funeral director Chatman Patterson drove to the Richmond, Ind., post of the Indiana National Guard to buy surplus weapons used to arm black military veterans who protected black sections of the city from white rioters in 1921.

Katie Torres, the class’s most advanced student, simply hit it off with Dorothy Minor.

“She was fantastic. She was very funny, first of all.” Torres also felt a natural connection with Minor because neither is a Springfield native and so each found her way in a new town.

Torres took in the extent to which Minor, although a college graduate, struggled against prejudice during her career and built a life in spite of that – a tale of perseverance.

Accepted in Wright State University’s film program, Torres has a natural affinity for history and its short-form counterpart. “I like the real stuff. I like the non-fiction.” She thinks she particularly enjoys the way non-fiction storytelling involves “reliving the moments” aspect of stories, in part because her grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.

As Juneteenth approaches, that seems a timely reminder of how a nation forgets parts of its own history at great risk to itself.

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