The Fayette County Genealogical Society hosted a cemetery walk in the Washington Cemetery in Washington Court House Monday, June 20. This year’s program, “Prominent Early Black Citizens,” was presented by guest speaker Paul LaRue, local historian and retired social studies teacher from the Washington City Schools.
June 20 was the day after Juneteenth, the holiday celebrated as the date when all of slavery ended in the United States. The last slaves in the United States were freed by federal troops in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865. On June 17, 2021, Juneteenth was recognized as a federal holiday.
LaRue shared the history and the contributions made by black citizens to our community. The public was invited to gather with Genealogical Society members near the fountain in the cemetery on the evening of Monday, June 20 at 6:30 p.m. and join in for this special program and learn more about our local history.
The first gravesite visited was that of Clarence Powell, who served in the Civil War as a drummer along with half-brother Sam Lucas, who served in the Civil War as well. Both had been born into slavery.
Powell made his home in Washington Court House and was a member of the GAR (Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization of veteran union soldiers of the Civil War). Sam Lucas became a performer and traveled the country. Lucas was the first black man to perform as Uncle Tom. Before him Uncle Tom had always been performed as a white man in black face. Lucas is buried in New York City.
Another grave visited was that of Hattie Jackson. Jackson was the wife of a Baptist minister in our community and was well known for her mighty money raising ability for missions. At the time of her death, her monument is believed to be the first erected for a black woman in northern Ohio. Jackson’s work existed over 150 years ago but there are still women’s auxiliaries in black Baptist churches named for her today.
The grave of John Wilson Bunch was visited, who was a Civil War veteran of the USCT and a member of the Local GAR Post #244. He was married to Phillis Jones. Phillis Jones was the aunt of Maybelle Jones and Clarabelle Jones Yellets, twin sisters in their 90s who are longtime Fayette County Genealogical Society members.
The Colored Soldiers row was visited. This row of graves was restored with the help of one of LaRue’s high school classes in 2002. The students, LaRue, and the cemetery staff did a wonderful job, and after 20 years the graves and markers still look well-kept giving great honor to these men.
The last stops were those of King Anderson, a very successful business owner, and Alexander Anderson, who was an early city council member. Both men were Civil War veterans, and members of the GAR # 244, and Alexander was commander of the post.
When the cyclone hit Washington Court House in 1889 and destroyed the black school on John Street, these two men were instrumental in desegregating the schools in our community and bringing the black children into the schools with all children and not building another black school.
These have been just a few of many gravesites visited during the very interesting and educational journey depicting our early black citizens and their contributions to our community.
LaRue has been the recipient of numerous state and national teaching awards and is best known for his work of getting his students out into the community for “hands on” teaching of history and making discoveries to document their own discoveries. He serves as a member on the Ohio World War I Committee and served on the National World War I Centennial Committee as a senior education advisor. He is a member of the Ohio State Board of Education.
For information concerning the Fayette County Genealogical Society, membership, meetings, or programs, contact Sue Gilmore, president, at 614-864-9609 or [email protected]; Cathy Massie White, lineage chair, at 740-333-7227 or [email protected]; or Peggy Lester, research chair, at 740-495-5720 or [email protected]
This year’s program, “Prominent Early Black Citizens,” was presented by guest speaker Paul LaRue, local historian and retired social studies teacher from the Washington City Schools.
The cemetery walk at Washington Cemetery was held June 20.