RIO GRANDE — Locals and travelers from afar once again spent the weekend at the Bob Evans Farm to celebrate freedom as the cornerstone of American values at the 153rd Emancipation Celebration Weekend.
While Emancipation Celebration Committee President Andrew Gilmore and Vice President Glenn Miller reflected on the efforts it took to continue running the oldest celebration of its kind in Gallia County, they, as well as Arthur Clark, invited Ohio University President Dr. Roderick McDavis to elaborate on the importance of education to democracy and how learning has traditionally been the true deliverer of freedom.
McDavis reflected on the accomplishments of John Templeton and Martha Jane Hunley Blackburn, the first African American man and woman, respectively, to graduate from Ohio University.
Templeton was born a slave in 1805 and freed in 1813. He eventually graduated from the university in 1820. He was the fourth African American to graduate from a U.S. college. Blackburn graduated in 1916 and went on to teach home economics in Ohio and West Virginia. The university’s Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium was named in their honor.
McDavis, himself, is the first African American Ohioan president of the university. He said he “marveled at the bravery of Templeton” as he sought an education when African Americans were not allowed to be educated.
“He sought an education at a time when blacks were not allowed to be educated and were prohibited by law, no less,” McDavis said. “He persevered even after being arrested because he knew that an education has the ability to unlock all possibilities. The late Nelson Mandela said, ‘Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can be come a doctor, that the son of a mine worker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farm workers can become president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.’”
McDavis continued to reference Mandela, saying education was the most powerful weapon an individual could have to change the world.
“He was right when he said it,” McDavis said, “and he’s right today. There is a reason slaves were denied an education — because knowledge is power. Slaveholders were concerned that literate slaves would convince other slaves to revolt. As First Lady Michelle Obama recently reminded Americans in her speech at the Democratic National Convention, the White House was built by slaves. The United States Capitol was built by slaves. Many of the brave patriots who fought for our nation’s independence against Great Britain were slaves. The Emancipation Proclamation may have sought to free an entire race, but the true liberator, I believe, is knowledge.”
McDavis encouraged the crowd to be lifelong learners, to pay attention to headlines and keep updated about current events because education must be used to change the world for the better. He encouraged members of the crowd to look for that which binds Americans together and not what separates them.
“As I look across our nation, as I travel about and talk to people all over, I’m concerned that we’re becoming more divided every day,” McDavis said. “I’m concerned that we’ve forgotten about what binds us together, that it is our humanity which brings us together. It is our sameness. It is our common ground on which we can all stand. What we’ve got to remember is that it’s not about ‘me,’ it’s about ‘we.’ However we move forward, our nation moves forward. It doesn’t matter what your political beliefs are. It matters that we’re all Americans and that we’re all in this together. We’ve got to find a way to overcome those things that divide us and spend more time on those things that bring us together.”
“I believe that, in Gallia County, we can start that and we can become a model for this entire nation,” McDavis said. “God bless you and God bless America.”
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.