For months, students in Chuck Yarborough’s African American History class at Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science have been conducting research.
The research involved combing internet databases such as Ancestry and other genealogy websites. The culmination of the project will be the annual Eighth of May Emancipation Celebration at historic Sandfield Cemetery in Columbus. The program will be held at 6 p.m. on Monday.
“The first Eighth of May emancipation celebration, we did in 2006,” Yarborough said. “We did them sporadically for a few years and it has become an annual project and performance of my African American History class in partnership with other entities both at our school and in the community, since 2013.”
This year, however, he is particularly excited because much of the subject matter being portrayed is new to the program.
“I am excited this year, because for the first time, we’ll be relating the fact that there were 20 United States colored troops in the Union Army from here in Columbus,” Yarborough said. “I’m also excited because this year, a group of students researched five formerly enslaved people who had been born in Africa. This means that these people experienced, firsthand, the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. That’s an experience we haven’t been able to talk about yet simply because we didn’t know the information.”
Dylan Wiley, a junior from Raymond, will be bringing the stories of the Union soldiers to life.
“I will be representing a Union soldier named Charles A. Williams who was born in Columbus in 1842,” Wiley said. “I will be telling the story of his comrades during the assault of Fort Wagner, as well as listing the 20 Columbus soldiers who were actually enlisted during the Civil War.”
A major factor of this year’s program, however, will be relating past experiences to the present, and viewing how cultural shifts have shaped the modern day African American experience.
Two seniors, Madison Echols of Hattiesburg and Hilldana Tibebu of Starkville will demonstrate this with their performance.
Tibebu will be portraying Jennie Johnston, a formerly enslaved person, and Echols will be portraying herself.
“The concept of our performance is talking about what it means to be black in America,” Echols said. “It’s the idea that our ancestors originated in Africa, but how culture has changed over the years.”
There will be many other performances from students and community groups, all telling the story of African American history and how it has shaped Columbus and Lowndes County.
“Overall, the project is celebrating black excellence in Lowndes County and Columbus in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and yet connecting it to contemporary experiences,” Yarbrorugh said.
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