In 2017, Black in Appalachia began documenting African American life and history in Lawrence, Gallia, Athens & Perry Counties, with a particular focus on the region's Emancipation Proclamation celebrations. Those events in Gallia County, Ohio hold the distinction of being the oldest continually celebrated Emancipation Day gatherings in the United States, begun on September 22, 1863.
Once we arrived in the region and began talking with residents, we quickly understood the vast and impressive narratives associated with Black life from the early 1800's until today. The unique confluence of Free Black communities, large numbers of United States Colored Troops during the Civil War, as well as the strong economic, intellectual, cultural and social infrastructures have helped to cultivate a massive network of communities of Color with ripples beyond it's geographic footprint. These communities were coal and lumber camps, iron forges, underground railroad stops, bastions against slave-catching paddy-rollers, agricultural operations and hubs for intellectual and religious thought.
These stories of Appalachian Ohio do not need our assistance in researching, uncovering and preservation. They know, teach and maintain their own spaces and family histories. Rather, Black in Appalachia's work in this region consists of:
Development of a documentary on the September 22nd Emancipation celebrations.
Modern documentary photography of current communities with historical Black significance
Technical and resource support for communities to cultivate and develop younger leaders in the preservation processes
200th Anniversary of Union Baptist Church, Blackfork, Ohio
Photographs by Jessica Tezak
On October 20th, 2019 the congregation of Union Baptist Church in Blackfork, Ohio celebrated its 200th anniversary. The oldest active Black church in Ohio is now situated in Southeast Ohio's Wayne National Forest and was born out of a complex history that includes the underground railroad, Native American and Free Black families, coal mining, iron production and brick making. For most of the families from Blackfork, Poke Patch and Dry Ridge, the church is an invaluable physical connection to the land and their community's history.
Emancipation Proclamation Celebration & Historic Sites
Gallia & Lawrence Counties, Ohio: 2017 - 2019