By Larry Hamilton
A day or so prior to the Fourth of July in 1846, the celebration of Independence Day throughout America, a tattered group of nearly 400 manumitted slaves arrived at Lock 9 on the Miami Erie Canal in Piqua. These early settlers and pioneering emigrants to the Upper Miami Valley experienced a challenging and somewhat hostile reception as Freedmen all along the journey to their destination of “Promised Land” in Mercer County. In Piqua, their greeting was little different than the resentful attitudes that had been exhibited at other stops on their way North to New Bremen, the terminus of the canal where they would be encircled by a mob and forced back down the canal to Piqua where residents later yielded to tolerance and “a more hospitable” environment at the Johnston Farm and Rossville.
On the Fourth of July in 1846 there was little confusion and misunderstanding on the part of white Americans for invoking the name of GOD in resolving not to accept the Randolph Freedmen as their neighbors. This was done so without shame and willfully publicized in newspapers locally, regionally and across the state. The “Black Laws” earlier enacted in Ohio had given cover to the pervasive attitude of racial superiority and the hardened hearts of privilege in denying the Randolph’s to become their neighbors. But the voice of “Freedom’s Struggle” given then to Frederick Douglass was lifted against them to condemn their moral hypocrisy and spiritual wickedness. Douglass at an early age wisely learned and understood that education made him unfit to be a slave while many miseducated and indoctrinated negroes had become conditioned to accept a safer more politic “slave mentality”.
American History is complicated but a greater awareness can be garnered by those who wish to know where we have come from and how that journey reflects upon our contemporary relationships and the ability to chart new directions into the future that will empower and enrich the potential for making America great. I would recommend during this holiday celebration three videos that are worthwhile viewing to capture where we have come from and the contemporary struggle to even understand where we are currently in our discourse that offers two very differing perspectives on a place at the fork in the road where we ponder the choice of which direction we will take from here.
The first YouTube video to study is the “self-narrative” of Douglass’s speech on the Fourth of July written in his own words but edited and portrayed by Morgan Freeman at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wkH2Ck-gH0I
Then from a contemporary view with a conservative perspective consider “Frederick Douglass” Republicans Woo Black Voters — CBN.com://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OUSSBqdJtrY
And finally watch Democracy Now’s “Does Donald Trump Think Frederick Douglass is Alive? Douglass’s Great-Great-Great Grandson Clarifies: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ujbv4WKIeXE
Even before his famous Fourth of July diatribe against America Frederick Douglass had been well aware of the Randolph controversy and wrote about his disgust with newspaper correspondents who were spreading malicious accounts of how miserably off they were and how many were anxious to return to slavery given their treatment in the North. Douglass loudly decried the assertions of the press as being falsehoods (fake news) but his greatest criticism was directed against Christian believers and preachers stating their “slander served as a text for many a sermon, among those who imagine slavery to be GOD’S best gift to the Negro. Fortunately, the Piqua papers and residents also took up the defense of the Randolph’s stating that the writer spreading the misinformation was in error and that “A large majority of the Randolph negroes, instead of being, as represented, ‘worthless’ pests upon the community in which they are located , are honest, industrious people, supporting themselves and families in comfort, and some of them accumulating good property. Upon the whole they have exceeded the expectations of those, who were sanguine in respect to their success.”
A “good property” located at 655 N. Main St. has been purchased under the ownership identity of Randolph & McCulloch, a Piquad who would later join the battle in the struggle for freedom became a humble and godly servant as a profile in courage during the Civil Rights era.
It is said that truth is stranger than fiction but it may not be as entertaining as fake news. But Frederick Douglass, also a newspaperman, chose the following slogan for the “North Star”: “Right is of no Sex — Truth is of no Color — God is the Father of us all, and we are all Brethren.”
Larry Hamilton is a resident of Piqua and a local historian.