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Ohio University commemorates Juneteenth with celebration of local history

Published: June 23, 2022 Author: Jordan Schmitt

Ohio University celebrated Juneteenth on Saturday, June 18, with a day filled with events for the entire University and Athens community.

Officially named a federal holiday in 2021, Juneteenth marks the United States’ second Independence Day. Ohio University’s 2022 celebration included a walking tour of Black history sites in Athens and a festival on the College Green.

 

Duane Bruce speaks at the 2022 Juneteenth Celebration
Executive Director of Diversity and Inclusion Dr. Duane Bruce speaks at the 2022 Juneteenth Celebration at Ohio University.

Juneteenth Health Walk of Athens’ Black history sites 

Participants met at the Baker University Center to take a walking tour of Black history in Athens. The local community is rich with history from significant African Americans, and a map of historical sites was created by the Mount Zion Baptist Church Preservation Society. 

Stops on the tour included: 

  • Mount Zion Baptist Church: A historic Black church and community center in Athens built in 1905.
  • The Berry Hotel: The well-known hotel stood on Court Street from 1892 to 1974, and for many years was owned and operated by a free Black man, Edward Berry, and his wife, Mattie. The hotel and restaurant were local favorites despite racial tension. 
  • Christopher Davis Lynching Memorial: A memorial to commemorate the lynching of Christopher Davis, who was killed on November 20, 1881, after being accused of assaulting a white woman.
  • Templeton Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium: The auditorium is named in honor of the first two Black graduates of Ohio University: John Templeton in 1828, and Martha Jane Hunley Blackburn in 1916. 
  • Haning Hall: This large building at the intersection of West Union and South Congress Streets in uptown Athens was designed by famous Black architect William W. Cooke.
  • West State Street Cemetery: Many famous Black Athens residents are buried here, including Eliza and Andrew Jackson. 
  • Booker T. Washington Wedding House: In a house on West Washington Street, Booker T. Washington and his wife, Olivia Davidson, held their wedding. The event took place in the home of the Elliott family, of whom Noah Elliott was Athens’ first Black physician. 
  • Adams Hall: The residence hall was built in 2007 and named after Alvin C. Adams. Adams was the first Black graduate of OHIO’s School of Journalism. 
The Juneteenth Festival on the College Green
The Juneteenth Festival on the College Green.

Festival on College Green 

To follow the morning’s walking tour, individuals gathered on College Green from 3 to 6 p.m. to celebrate Juneteenth. The festival featured food, vendors, children’s activities and a wide range of organizations. 

Assistant Director of Diversity and Inclusion Programs  Vanessa Morgan-Nai helped to co-chair the Juneteenth planning committee. She described the perfect weather of the day , and a positive atmosphere.

Due to the help from sponsors across various colleges at the University, the event also offered free food for attendees. 

“It was successful because we had a lot of different people come to the event,” Morgan-Nai said. “Many vendors came and educated people in the community. I really enjoyed having time to connect with family and friends. It was just a nice, calm and engaging time.”

Though the event aimed to celebrate the holiday, it also symbolizes the continued need to recognize Black history in the United States. 

“For me, it’s a constant reminder of the history of this country, and also a constant reminder of the fact that the work is not done,” said Morgan-Nai. “People still need to know what Juneteenth stands for.”