PIQUA — An “epiphany” more than a decade ago is coming to fruition for local educator, historian and author Larry Hamilton.
Well-known for his expertise on Piqua history — particularly the story of freedmen who settled in the area — Hamilton was inspired to “do the right thing” by teaching black history as a means of promoting understanding of what he calls “our inclusive historical heritage.”
“Black history is American history,” Hamilton said.
To that end, he and his wife, Linda, purchased a property at 655 N. Main St. in Piqua that they have named the Randolph & McCulloch Freedom’s Struggle Complex, which, according to Hamilton, they have “spent a great deal of time and effort renovating” recently.
“I purchased a historically relevant property to begin telling our story, a narrative on the Randolph Manumission and a struggle for freedom of African Americans in settling Piqua and the upper Miami Valley of west central Ohio,” Hamilton said.
The building is situated on the corridor also known as County Road 25-A, which was a pathway for fugitives on the Underground Railroad north to Canada, Hamilton said. The site overlooks the Randolph settlement of Rossville, which was one of the most successful communities of freedpeople in the state.
The Randolph Freedmen were 383 emancipated slaves from the Roanoke Plantation in Virginia in the 1820s. They left Virginia for approximately 2,000 acres of purchased land in Mercer County, where they faced animosity and aggression, forcing them to turn back toward Piqua.
Hamilton said that through the Randolph & McCulloch Complex, he wants to “value and memorialize the struggle for freedom on the part of the ancestors.”
The best way to do this, he explained, is “through a narrative on the Randolphs. I think all black people can relate to this, in terms of the struggle for freedom.”
Further plans for renovation include creating a new facade for the structure, as well as building a barbershop and/or hair salon in the complex, to pay tribute to the profession that drew many black men who came to Piqua in the 19th century, Hamilton said. He also would like to offer the community a “hospitable gathering place” in the form of a restaurant.
In addition, the facility eventually — in its final phase of development — will house Omavi & Asali Publishing. “Omavi” means “the highest gift from God,” and “Asali” means “one who honors the ancestors,” Hamilton explained, adding that they are also the names of his grandsons.
Ultimately, Omavi & Asali Publishing will launch “The 1846 Campaign” — named for the year of emancipation of the Randolph Freedmen — a fundraiser involving the sale of a new version of Hamilton’s “News or Lose” and other editions of the game.
Currently, donations are being accepted for the project. “It’s an opportunity for individuals and groups to donate to the cause if they see a shared or mutual interest in the efforts of the Randolph & McCullough Complex,” Hamilton said. “Thus far, we’ve gotten a few considerable donations.”
Donations can range from a minimum of $18.46 upward, and can be made at any branch of the Wright-Patt Credit Union. “I’d say, maybe 10 to 12 individuals have donated so far, one as much as $500, another $184.60. It’s all appreciated,” Hamilton said.
“It’s an interesting kind of situation,” Hamilton said, musing that the events of the past correlate to things transpiring in the world today.
“The whole flag issue is one of those contemporaneous events that reflects on the past that is directly related to the Randolph narrative,” he said in reference to professional football players “taking a knee” at games during the national anthem.
“A lot of people don’t have a clue to the fact that (slaveowner) John Randolph, his best friend and the person appointed to execute his will was Francis Scott Key, who wrote the anthem. When you talk about Francis Scott Key, there’s a direct relation to the Randolph narrative, particularly Colin Kaepernick and how he viewed the lack of worth of blacks and their struggle for freedom.
“The last verses of the anthem pointed to the fact that (Key) viewed the struggle for freedom for blacks who joined the British, he viewed them as treacherous, as traitors, when in fact, he and Randolph were denying black people their freedom in America. So all these stories have relativity to advancing the call for an inclusive historical heritage in America,” Hamilton said.
“I really want people to understand that this is an opportunity for us to take a look at the Randolph narrative within American history because that’s exactly what it is. The story of the Randolphs is one that we have to use to train up and educate, not miseducate.”
Reach Belinda M. Paschal at email@example.com or (937) 451-3341