By Megan Greve
Renowned African-American author and educator Booker T. Washington was married on Athens' west side in 1886. And after Oct. 18, more people will know the history of the house at 193 W. Washington St., where the ceremony occurred.
To bring the site out of its relative obscurity, the Ohio University Department of African American Studies and the Athens County Historical Society and Museum will place a historical marker in front of the home at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.
Washington, who founded Alabama's Tuskegee University in 1881, never lived in Ohio. But his future wife, Olivia Davidson, was a teacher in Albany, and her brother-in-law Noah Elliott, Athens' first African-American doctor, lived in the home.
The dedication ceremony will include remarks by Ohio University President Roderick J. McDavis and representatives of the Athens County Historical Society. The list of scheduled participants includes Athens Mayor Paul Wiehl; Gary Cordingley, a physician and Ohio University associate professor of neurology; and descendents of Booker T. Washington and the Ruffner family, for whom Washington worked for after he was emancipated.
Carl Denbow, a member of the Athens County Historical Society and Museum board and Ohio University administrator, came up with the idea to place a marker at the house. His inspiration was the history of the West Washington Street area and the African-Americans who lived there in the 19th century.
"The period of time from the end of the Civil War until the first few decades of the 20th century marked the zenith of the African-American presence in southeastern Ohio," Denbow said.
Denbow said the marker will commemorate an important aspect of African-American history in Athens County.
Tom O' Grady, chair of the Athens County Historical Society and Museum board, agrees.
"In such a rapidly changing time, there's a lot of history that's disappearing," O'Grady said. "(This marker) will educate people to who Booker T. Washington is and what kind of contribution he made to our society."
The marker will look similar to the one that sits in front of the Court Street Diner at 18 N. Court St., the former site of the Hotel Berry. That hotel was owned by Edward and Mattie Berry, an African-American couple who became industry pioneers by placing Bibles and sewing kits in every room.
Representatives of African American Studies will lead tours of other historical sites in the W. Washington St. neighborhood starting at noon Saturday. The sites include the former Berry home on Congress Street, the former African Methodist Episcopal Church on Pratt Street and the former home of the first African-American attorney in Athens, A.J. Davison.
In addition, African American Studies will display a poster exhibit at the Athens County Historical Society and Museum that chronicles 19th century African-American life in Athens County.
The historical marker dedication is part of African American Studies' 40th anniversary celebration, which will run through fall 2009.
In another event planned as part of that observance, Princeton University Professor Cornel West will speak at 7 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 18, in the Baker University Center Ballroom. His appearance is part of a Center for International Studies conference.
This story was edited for accuracy on Oct. 15, 2008.