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Juneteenth events mark new holiday at Summit County Historical Society

Akron Beacon Journal logo Akron Beacon Journal 6/19/2021 Eric Marotta, Akron Beacon Journal
a person talking on a cell phone: Educator Reva Golden, as Harriet Tubman, talks about John Brown in the home that Brown lived in during his short time in Akron during a Juneteenth - Farm Friday program on June 18, 2021 in Akon. The program was at the Perkins Stone Mansion and John Brown House on the grounds of the Summit County Historical Society. © Mike Cardew, Akron Beacon Journal Educator Reva Golden, as Harriet Tubman, talks about John Brown in the home that Brown lived in during his short time in Akron during a Juneteenth - Farm Friday program on June 18, 2021 in Akon. The program was at the Perkins Stone Mansion and John Brown House on the grounds of the Summit County Historical Society.

Dozens of children took a trip back in time Friday to learn about years past, when many of their ancestors had been enslaved, and of the struggles to bring them freedom more than a century ago.

It was the day after President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law, following its approval by the U.S. Senate and overwhelming support in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The new law establishes a national celebration of Juneteenth, the day that Union soldiers on June 19, 1865, told enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas, that the Civil War had ended and they were free.

Educator Reva Golden, who portrayed Harriet Tubman, and historical reenactor Dave Gates, who portrayed a Union Army soldier, taught around 75 children from neighborhood schools about the Underground Railroad, which led many slaves to freedom, as well as the role of abolitionist John Brown and of the harrowing times Black people faced before the Civil War.

The program took place at the Perkins Stone Mansion and John Brown House on the grounds of the Summit County Historical Society on Copley Road.

On Saturday, the historical society is hosting a Juneteenth Symposium that will feature guest speakers and a community discussion on issues of equality and equity in the African American community in Summit County. The public is invited to attend the free event, which starts at 10 a.m. For more information, see https://www.summithistory.org/events/juneteenth-symposium.

a man and a woman standing in front of a building: Educator Reva Golden plays Harriet Tubman and historical reenactor Dave Gates plays a Union soldier in the Juneteenth program Friday at the Perkins Stone Mansion and John Brown House on the grounds of the Summit County Historical Society. © Mike Cardew, Akron Beacon Journal Educator Reva Golden plays Harriet Tubman and historical reenactor Dave Gates plays a Union soldier in the Juneteenth program Friday at the Perkins Stone Mansion and John Brown House on the grounds of the Summit County Historical Society.

Bringing history to life

Society President Leianne Neff Heppner credited Golden with putting together the children's program, as well as the symposium that will mark the actual June 19 holiday.

"We're grateful for the opportunity to work with children in the community and to recognize Freedom Day," she said. "We've been planning for this for a year. When the nation shut down last year and Ohio was able to finally reopen, our first program last year was Juneteenth. It actually set up a transition in our visitation for children, in that our neighborhood, predominantly African American, came ... It's really touching to see these kids come and learn that no matter what you look like, you're welcome."

Children who attended were in younger grades from organizations including Project RISE, Emmanuel Christian Academy and Wonder World Child Development, among others.

George Lee, a recreational specialist with the Ed Davis Community Center, was at last year's presentation and was back this year with a new group of 21 children.

"This is a great program for kids," he said, adding he grew up just a block away from the historic site.

Golden, dressed in a tan dress and headscarf, said she is a bit taller than Tubman was.

"She stood about 5 feet, maybe 4½ feet, but she was a power-packed woman. Not only did she rescue slaves, she was a Union spy, she was a nurse in the Union army, she was for women's rights — she did all of that," Golden said. "The program here focuses on her relationship with John Brown."

Golden said Tubman helped Brown organize the famous 1859 raid on a federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in an attempt to inspire a slave rebellion. Brown was captured and executed, but the incident is cited as one of the many sparks that eventually resulted in the Civil War.

Gates said he has been a historic reenactor for around 10 years. His portion of the program focused on the Underground Railroad, in which he describes the strategies abolitionists used to rescue escaped slaves, as well as the dangers they faced, as bounties were offered for their return — and not necessarily alive.

a group of people holding wine glasses: Historical reenactor Dave Gates, as a Union soldier, tells children about the Underground Railroad during Friday's presentation in Akron. © Mike Cardew, Akron Beacon Journal Historical reenactor Dave Gates, as a Union soldier, tells children about the Underground Railroad during Friday's presentation in Akron.

Juneteenth symposium Saturday in Akron

Heppner said Golden came up with the idea for Saturday's Juneteenth Symposium, which eventually was organized after consulting with "a group of interfaith individuals and historical society leaders."

The symposium begins at 10 a.m. at the Perkins Stone Mansion, 550 Copley Road in Akron, with a "Community Talk Back: Equality and Equity."

Moderated by the Rev. David Nelson, of New Hope Baptist Church and Summit County Historical Society board director, panelists include: Carla Chapman, chief diversity officer of Akron Public Schools; Leslie Parker Barnes, founder and artistic director of YEPAW, Youth Excellence Performing Arts Workshop; The Rev. Robert DeJournett, of Greater Akron Chamber and St. Ashworth Temple C.O.G.I.C.; Dr. Jennifer Ross, director of diversity & strategic initiatives for the Akron Urban League; The Rev. Kevin Rushings, pastor of the United Baptist Church; and Lt. Michael Miller, of the Akron Police Department.

There will also be two performances, at 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., of the play, "The Life of John Brown," written by Golden, who will perform as Harriet Tubman along with regional actors De Lemire as narrator, Dennis Runkle as John Brown and Corin B, Self as Frederick Douglass.

a group of people in a room: Reva Golden, playing Harriet Tubman, tells children about John Brown in the Akron home that Brown lived in. © Mike Cardew, Akron Beacon Journal Reva Golden, playing Harriet Tubman, tells children about John Brown in the Akron home that Brown lived in.

Eric Marotta can be reached at 330-541-9433, or emarotta@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @MarottaEric.

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Juneteenth events mark new holiday at Summit County Historical Society

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