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Ohio University Southern celebrates region’s history with new Culture and Heritage Festival

Ohio University Southern, located in Ironton, OH, will host the inaugural Culture and Heritage Festival on Saturday, June 17 from noon to 7 p.m., featuring live music, a theatrical performance and more.

The new festival will lead up to the Juneteenth holiday, as part of the Appalachian Freedom Heritage Tourism Initiative, celebrating the history of the Underground Railroad in Appalachian communities. Opening ceremonies will include the presentation of colors from Boy Scout Troop 106, followed by the National Anthem performed by the Ironton High School Varsity Singers and remarks from local leaders.

Music will kick off at 12:30 p.m. with the Renee Stewart band from Southeast Ohio, blending lyrical honesty with rock and roll roots. Robert Lomax, who enjoys using his tenor voice singing spirituals, gospel and contemporary Christian music, will follow at 1:30 p.m. Honey Dipped, a team of experienced musicians and performers who are passionate about creating unforgettable experiences for their audience, will take the stage at 2:30 p.m., wrapping up the musical performances for the day.

“Juneteenth: A Celebration of Historical Legacies” will be performed following the live music at 5 p.m. in the Bowman Auditorium. The theatrical production was written and directed by Belinda Brown of Ironton and features actors from the tri-state area. The performance is a tribute to African Americans who have made contributions to our country.

“We’re bringing some inspiring characters to life,” said Brown. “Our whole goal is to educate, enlighten and inspire. The characters are African American, but everybody can see themselves in these people.”

One of the characters highlighted in the performance will be Harriett Tubman.

“She’s one of my favorites, I’ve read 50,000 things about her. But doing research, I learned more,” Brown added. “I didn’t know that she was a suffragette, she fought for women’s right to vote. She was a veteran. She was the first woman to lead an expedition and be a spy in the Union Army. She led so many people to freedom, she is just an inspiration.”

In addition to well-known historical figures, local figures will also be highlighted.

“It’s not just people that you might’ve seen on TV or read in a book. That’s your neighbor up there, your cousin… If they can do it, you can too,” said Brown. “We’re trying to put pride in our people and in our community, to inspire us to plant the seeds and let them grow.”

Juneteenth, celebrated June 19 each year, marks the country’s second Independence Day. Although Juneteenth has long been celebrated in the African American community, this monumental event remains largely unknown to most Americans. In June 2021, the Ohio University Board of Trustees approved a resolution to recognize Juneteenth as a federal holiday at OHIO. Since then, OHIO has hosted programming and activities that celebrates the holiday and educates the community on the importance behind the day.

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The Culture and Heritage Festival is made possible by a POWER Grant received from the Appalachian Regional Commission in partnership with the Lawrence Economic Development Corporation and nearly 20 other partners across nine counties in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia.

May 22, 2023
Staff reports