WILBERFORCE — A local history — one of “bondage, freedom, and strength” — is getting a new spotlight at the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center (NAAMCC).
On Saturday, NAAMCC will be unveiling an exhibit on the Randolph freed people, which were a group of 383 emancipated people and survivors of slavery on the Roanoke Plantation in Virginia in the 1820s. They left Virginia for approximately 2,000 acres of purchased land in Mercer County, but they were forced to leave that area and resettle north of Piqua at Rossville, a location also referred to as the Randolph Slave Settlement.
The artifacts and other historical items of the Rossville Historic Springcreek House Museum were bequeathed to the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center, which former Miami County native and recent Wright State University graduate Hadley Drodge of Troy took part in cataloging, digitizing, and curating for NAAMCC.
“When I arrived, I saw this collection of photographs that were absolutely stunning,” Drodge, now an archives intern and volunteer curator, said about first encountering the collection. “They were part of this story that I had heard living in Miami County … It was just really powerful to stand there and see them person.”
Drodge said that seeing the photos of the Randolph freed people were like seeing a “folktale come to life.”
NAAMCC allowed Drodge to create an exhibit at the museum with the help of other curators on staff. There are 22 panels in the exhibit that tell the story of the Randolph freed people, including artifacts that are also on display.
The new exhibit, Freed Will: The Randolph Freed People From Slavery to Settlement, will be unveiled on Saturday at 1 p.m. Drodge will speak at the unveiling on the history and impact of the Randolph freed people.
“I do have a group of living descendants coming to the exhibit,” Drodge said. “I hope have done their story justice.”
Drodge explained that this history is important on a larger scale of telling the history of black Americans and the United States overall.
“Black Americans have had to overcome the horrors of slavery, but the story doesn’t end in tragedy,” Drodge said. “We should be celebrating this history.” For the Randolphs in particular, Drodge noted that “many of the Randolphs become very important locally and nationally … They were able to build communities and influence America in its entirety.”
While the artifacts have left the Rossville area of Miami and Shelby counties, the significance of the Randolphs can still be felt locally. Drodge cited many local people as having kept this history alive over the years, including Art Thomas, Larry Hamilton, and Helen Gilmore.
“They worked extremely hard to keep this story from fading away and fading into myth,” Drodge said.
Larry Hamilton of Piqua will be going with a group from the Greater Love Missionary Baptist Church NAAMCC for a tour of the campuses of Wilberforce and Central State Universities at 10 a.m. prior to the unveiling of the exhibit. Hamilton explained how three Piqua churches have ties to the African Baptist Church founded by the Randolph freed people, including the Second Baptist Church, Cyrene African Methodist Episcopal Church, and Greater Love Missionary Baptist Church.
For Hamilton, although he would have personally preferred the artifacts had stayed local, seeing them find a new home at NAAMCC is a way of honoring the work and efforts of Helen Gilmore, who also worked to keep that story alive.
“I’m hopeful that anyone and everyone that feels connected to the story historically, even spiritually, would maybe take the time to come together and make a trip to Wilberforce and the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center and spend a day in cordiality or harmony in looking at what is a tantamount to a struggle for freedom and an acknowledgement of people trying to do the right thing,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton also remains committed to honoring the Randolphs and their impact on history.
“It’s my desire to honor and memorialize the Randolphs … Because they, to me, they exemplify black people and an inclusive historical heritage,” Hamilton said.
The exhibit will be on display from Saturday, May 20, through Nov. 25.
NAAMCC is located at 1350 Brush Row Road, Wilberforce. Hours are Monday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Museum admission is: $6 for adults, $5 for seniors, and $3 for ages 6–17. Admission is free for Ohio History Connection and National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center members.
For more information call (800) 752-2603 or visit ohiohistory.org/naamcc.
Reach Sam Wildow at firstname.lastname@example.org or (937) 451-3336