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Blacks left their mark locally

Tom Jackson • Feb 24, 2014 at 8:44 AM

Blacks fought for Commodore Perry, helping the Americans defeat the British navy in the Battle of Lake Erie.


They helped settle the area before the Civil War and helped escaped slaves from the South go through Sandusky to freedom in Canada.

The contributions blacks made to Ohio and U.S. history is celebrated in February as Black History Month.

Black History Month dates back to 1926, when historian Carter G. Woodson created “Black History Week,” celebrated during the second week of February.    It was students at Ohio’s Kent State University who suggested extending the observance to an entire month.

Kent State University archivist Lae’l Hughes-Watkins, responding to a query from the Sandusky Register, dug up a report which says a Kent State dean proposed expanding the celebration to a month.

“During 1969, the Black United Students celebrated Black History Week. During the celebration, Dean M.E. Wilson, while talking to Donald Thigpen, coordinator of Minority Affairs, and Nelson Stevens, a graduate student in Art who has been instrumental in much of the existing cultural programming, suggested the week be extended into Black History Month in 1970. Dean Wilson, a few days later placed Black History Month on the official university calendar for 1970,” a university report says.

Critics of Black History Month sometimes ask why a particular group is singled out in February.

In fact it’s not unusual for various groups in the U.S. to celebrate their heritage. March is “Women’s History Month” and also “Irish-American Heritage Month.”

It has long been known that blacks fought in Perry’s fleet in the Battle of Lake Erie. A black genealogist, Tony Burroughs of Chicago, found proof in 2012 that one of his ancestors was one of those fighting black sailors.

Oliver Hazard Perry Smothers, a black man from Pennsylvania, fought in the Union army during the Civil War. Burroughs found tax records in Pennsylvania proving that OHP Smothers was the son of Charles Smothers, known to have fought in Perry’s force.

Sandusky’s role as a stop on the Underground Railroad — not a railroad, but a surreptitious network for helping escaped slaves — was documented even before the Civil War. The novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Ohio’s Harriet Beecher Stowe, the bestselling novel of the 19th century, mentions Sandusky several times, including this passage:

“And hark ye,” said Tom; “we’ve got correspondents in Sandusky, that watch the boats for us”

A sculpture in downtown Sandusky and an exhibit in the Maritime Museum of Sandusky commemorate Sandusky’s role in the Underground Railroad.

A still-existing Sandusky church, Second Baptist Church, played a role in helping escaped slaves.

In 1849, seven Sandusky blacks formed Zion Baptist Church. Before the Civil War, it was reorganized under a new name: First Regular Anti-Slavery Baptist Church. The church at 315 Decatur St. now is known as Second Baptist Church.

Notable locations

Second Baptist Church, 315 Decatur St., Sandusky

Historic Second Baptist Church, which dates back to an 1849 church, Zion Baptist Church, has two oil paintings inside by artist Charles L. Sallee Jr. (1911-2006), a Sandusky High graduate who was the first black graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Art.

“Path to Freedom” at Facer Park, Hancock and Water streets

The sculpture by local artist Susan Schultz, dedicated in 2007, depicts a black man, woman and child escaping to freedom. Plaques providing information about the Underground Railroad surround the statue.

Maritime Museum of Sandusky, 125 Meigs St.

Exhibit on the Underground Railroad, and a 10-minute video on it is shown at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

The Wright House historical marker, 417 Main St., Huron

Tells the story of Jabez Wright, a judge whose farmhouse was a “station” on the Underground Railroad. A tunnel from the farmhouse connected slaves to a corn crib near the Lake Erie Shore.

Warren Chapel AME Church, 304 Mulberry St., Fremont

A historic black church. It is descended from Payne Chapel, originally built in 1868 at 607 Second St.

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