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The Last Black Dairy Farmer

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  • February 3, 2003
    Boone seeks - and finds - diversity in Southeast Ohio
    By Aaron Reincheld

    When photojournalism graduate student Regina Boone came to Ohio University in the fall of 2001, something didn't feel right.

    It wasn't that she was homesick. Boone, who was then 32, had spent three years teaching in Japan and backpacking alone across Asia, Africa and Europe. But the Richmond, Va., native did feel isolated.

    Quote Having completed her undergraduate degree at a historically black college in Atlanta, Boone, herself African American, experienced culture shock in spite of the rich history surrounding the Athens region -- including the Underground Railroad.

    "Initially I was totally shocked," Boone says. "I was seeing very few blacks or people of color outside of campus. I wanted to find where blacks were in the greater community and what they were doing."

    So Boone set out on a mission: Find African Americans beyond the University's gates. One day, she traveled to Gallipolis for a celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation, the document signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 that ended slavery. Many African Americans from Gallipolis and surrounding regions attended the event.

    "I felt relieved to see so many blacks," Boone says. "I no longer felt as lonely."

    Her experience led her to a wonderful friendship. At the celebration, Boone met Bill Howard from Bidwell, Ohio -- the last black dairy farmer in the state. She soon formed a close relationship with Howard and his wife, Jackie. During visits to their farm, Boone learned about the current difficulties facing dairy farmers.

    "I saw how the job is not only an occupation, but also a lifestyle that has so many hardships that come along with it," she says.

    When assigned to complete a project for a visual communications class, she thought Bill Howard would make a captivating subject. The motivation behind the photos has different layers, and Boone hopes people who view her work will come away with a few messages.

    Boone hopes to showcase the region's cultural diversity.

    "I would like others to realize there is a community of black people, a community of biracial people and a community of multi-racial people living in Southeast Ohio, and that they are here making a difference and have been here for a very, very long time," Boone says. "This area is not a homogeneous community. I want people to recognize the diversity."

    Boone also hopes people gain an appreciation of farmers across the nation.

    "I want people to realize how the life of farming is such a sacrifice," she says. "We should not forget our farmers -- especially the few remaining black farmers who fought hard for their land and, unfortunately, are still fighting to survive on their land today."

    Boone will be an exhibitor at Community and Campus Day on Feb. 15 at Nelson Commons. In addition to her photos of the Howards, Boone plans to showcase photo essays of the oldest African American women in Athens.

    Aaron Reincheld is a graduate student writer with University Communications and Marketing.

     

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