Fort marks Black History Month

STEUBENVILLE – The Underground Railroad in Ohio will be the focus of the 2014 Black History Month exhibit at Historic Fort Steuben.

“Follow the Drinking Gourd” will be on display today through Feb. 28 in the Fort Steuben Visitors Center Exhibit Hall.

The exhibit features people, places and events that were instrumental in the abolitionist movement of the 18th century in the United States. A timeline traces the history of slavery in the United States from colonial times to the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1865 that finally outlawed the practice.

“In this year’s exhibit we offer an opportunity for people to learn more about our local history,” explained Judy Bratten, executive director of Historic Fort Steuben.

“Much has changed in the past 150 years, and it’s hard to believe that there were slave auctions just down the river in Wheeling and that men and women risked their lives crossing the Ohio River in the hopes of escaping slavery,” Bratten said.

Information on conductors and stations in and around Jefferson County as well as a map of trails through the county are included in the display.

“When Steubenville was founded in 1797, Ohio was still part of the Northwest Territory … not yet a state,” added Bratten. “The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 had outlawed slavery in the territory and the area was settled by many Quakers, abolitionists and freed blacks. Naturally it became central in the movement to help runaway slaves make their way to freedom in Canada.”

Among the displays is the history McIntyre, an early black settlement in Jefferson County, as well as a slide show of the area today by a descendent of those early settlers. Census records and letters also are part of the exhibit.

The exhibit will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays and will be open on Saturday, as well when the fort hosts the annual Black History Month Film Festival and Essay Contest organized by Labelle Neighbors Who Care.

This year’s theme is “Initiative, Discovery and Innovation in the Face of Adversity” and will feature brief films about African Americans who overcame prejudice. For rules and submission requirements for the essay contest, contact Labelle Neighbors Who Care at (740) 346-9925.

Historic Fort Steuben is located at 120 S. Third St. The exhibit and film festival are free, and donations are welcome.