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100 Years Ago

Black History
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Randolph Slave Reunions

The Carter Lee family, ancestors of Sidney’s first black mayor, James P. Humphrey, were registered as free slaves on April 30, 1846, prior to their departure from Virginia and settlement in Shelby County. The document lists them as: No. 421 - Carter - a man of black complexion, aged thirty-three years, five feet, nine and one-half inches high. No. 422 - Pheobe - (wife of Carter) black complexion, aged twenty-two years, five feet three inches high. No. 423 - Clemina - (daughter of Carter and Pheobe) black complexion, aged six years, three feet two and one-half inches high. No. 424 - Betsey - (daughter of same) black complexion, aged four years, three feet high. No. 425 - Suckey - (daughter of same) black complexion, aged six months, two feet high.

The original Randolph slaves, a great family of 383 individuals who’s arduous trek west to Ohio as freed people in 1846 is a true American saga that rightfully deserves a place in the milestones of our region’s history. This elusive recognition, denied through decades of discrimination, for a moment in time, that saw them journeying hundreds of miles to be dispossessed of all that was legally theirs, is now a growing reality in the history of this area. Suffering humiliation, personal indignities and injury at the hands of some, and compassion and concern at the hands of others, they began their new life in Ohio evolving around the churches they formed and the growth of their families.

A group that shared such joy and grief did not forsake the gathering of friends and kin. The Randolph Ex-Slaves Association was formed in July, 1900, at a reunion held at Midway Park near Piqua. This was the first time since their members were brought to Ohio in 1846 that any considerable number of the old Randolph slaves met together. In attendance were 62 of the original Randolphs, those who had been born in Virginia, held in slavery and then transported to Ohio as small children. This distinction separated them as the originals, "Old Dominions" and the "Buckeyes" (those born in Ohio or children of the originals). The Buckeyes were easily distinguishable by the Buckeyes they each wore to the event.

Gradually, the younger Buckeyes outnumbered the Old Dominions and began taking over the reunion planning. Their gatherings followed a predictable pattern with an elaborate meal, singing, reminiscences and talks. Attendance ranged from 100 to 300 annually with the reunions held in Piqua, Troy and at the Shelby County Fairgrounds.   A July, 1902, edition of the "Shelby County Democrat" reported that the old slaves gathered, "...and the tales they told of their peculiar master were highly interesting." The reunions of 1900 to 1906 had Manson Brown of Sidney (his relatives still reside in Sidney) serving as an elected officer of the Randolph Slave Association.

It was reported in the 1904 "Shelby County Democrat" that Reverend J. Berney, pastor of the Mt. Vernon Baptist Church, during his address of welcome, told the Randolphs to have "great patience...Time would solve the problem of their reclaiming their land the same as time solved the race problem and the same as time has solved all other problems."

randolphslavereunionatfairgrounds.gif (33071 bytes)
Reunion of Randolph Slaves at Shelby County, Ohio Fairgrounds

It was during this period that the Old Dominions decided to file a court case to recover the monies realized in the illegal sale of their Mercer County land. It was 1907, and nearly 170 of the surviving former slaves filed suit to recover the land Randolph had willed to them or its cash value of $38,000. Joseph Moten and York Rial of Rossburg (Piqua) provided the leadership that led to a total of 27 cases seeking retribution for the denial of what was rightfully theirs.

At each level, the judgement of the Mercer County Common Pleas Court was affirmed: The plaintiffs had waited too long to sue, and the 21 years statute of limitations had expired. It took 10 years to resolve and went beyond local courts to the Ohio Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court.

The reunion of 1902 was held at Midway Park, where about 100 hundred people from Sidney, Dayton, Xenia, Eaton, Piqua and other places, attended. The tales they told of their old master were highly interesting to the young people. The reunion of 1904, also held at Midway Park, was attended by more than 300 persons. The greeting was given by Isham Randolph, the first male child born after the freed slaves came to Ohio. The reunion of 1905 was held at the Sidney fairgrounds and in 1906 it was held at the Troy fairgrounds.

The reunions followed the same plan of spending the mornings in greeting each other and visiting with friends and relatives. An elaborate meal was eaten at noon. The afternoon program consisted of the welcome, a business meeting, singing, praying, reminiscences and talks.

Today’s descendants, the "Buckeyes," continue to honor their Randolph slave ancestors, the "Originals," through gatherings and reunions that bring friends and relatives together from all parts of the United States. In honor of the Randolph Slaves, the community of Piqua (under the leadership of Helen Gilmore) celebrates an annual event, in June, known as "Randolph Freedom Day."

'Black History' segment written in June, 1998 by David Lodge


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