As a recipient of the 2016-2017 Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship, I’ve made my way to my host institution NKU to begin my research. At the top of my list was the need to establish greater geographic and historical context and better situate myself within the project. Dr. Hackett, Dr. Jones and I spent a little time on the Parker Academy site and surrounding areas. I could now visually connect the present location of Daniel Parker’s home, James K. Parker’s residence, the shared country private driveways, with that I saw in the archives and in historic maps.
During this trip, I was also fortunate enough to become reacquainted with personnel from the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (NURFC) in Cincinnati and the property guardian and current owner of James K. Parker’s home, Greg Roberts. NURFC and Mr. Roberts’ interest and commitment to aid us in facilitating opportunities to learn and teach about the school and the Parker family could not make us happier! Having willing partners to help disseminate this fascinating history is a dream of historical archaeologists in my position!
Primarily framed within a three-year timeline, the Parker Academy Project is conceptualized to be revolutionary on several levels: 1-it is inherently a multidisciplinary endeavor between anthropologists (archaeology and ethnography), historians (of Public History and philology) and geographers (GIS and remote sensing). 2- We as collaborators visualize this project as transdisciplinary in that scholars of differing disciplines come together to create intellectual property that is beyond our disciplinary perspectives. But more importantly, how can our research influence positive change in the real world? How can our contributions to public history, public archaeology, and heritage benefit contemporary cultures?
These questions of social activism were inspired by the writings of Daniel and Priscilla Parker, husband and wife co-founders of the Parker Academy school. In Daniel’s autobiography, he clearly admits that it was Priscilla’s idea (and perhaps, insistence) to establish a school that would be open to all students regardless of gender, race, or religious affiliation. The matriculation of white boys and girls was rare for that time, but to include racial integration at the grammar school level was unprecedented. For historical context: Kentucky was a slave-holding state during the antebellum period, while just across the narrow Ohio river, Ohio was not. Although, slavery was illegal in Ohio, it was not a sympathetic haven for African Americans and policies were developed to hinder black migration and the settlement of free African Americans (Middleton 2005). During the first three decades of the 19th century, racial tensions were becoming more volatile over black and white competition for jobs and general white fears over the rapid increase of free and fugitive blacks in Ohio cities. Cincinnati race riots of 1829 and 1836 violent mobs racially terrorized blacks resulting in death, destruction of black owned property or driving them out of town (Taylor 2005). Twenty-two miles east of the “Queen City”, rural communities in Clermont County may not have been as dire with many citizens openly embracing the abolitionist movement. But in general, anti-black sentiment was still prevalent and black civil rights was never a focus.
As it was in states like New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania, education for blacks in Ohio were either segregated or non-existent. The establishment of a public school system in the 1830s excluded the funding of for black students or black-only schools (McGinnis 1962; Tillman 2009). Our analysis of Parker family archives shows us with incontestable deduction that education and anti-racist ideology was as deeply entrenched to the Parkers’ beliefs as their Christian faith. While friends, neighbors, and like-minded members of the community sent their white children to be educated alongside blacks, many deeply opposed their radical ideas and thus lost potential financial supporters. However, this never hampered or hindered their undertaking. The Parker’s historical activism to transcend racism and sexist systems went beyond contemporary strategies of abolitionism by rethinking society’s long-held trends of social stratification based on inequalities. Priscilla, in an 1847 letter to members of her Baptist community, passionately implores them to take up the fight of anti-slavery resistance.
Note these two passages as an example:
…I, as a humble member, think it right to speak of these things and try to have a coming up to the standard of our holy religion there are great and flagrant sins… We have declared before the world that we are Christ’s people, and that He has made our spirits free from the bondage of sin and death. Then why should we fear to make an expression against this vile bondage that subjugates thousands of our poor brethren and sisters soul and body to the evil dominion of a fellow mortal.
…I feel that I have not done all my duty heretofore, and I cannot rest without making one more attempt knowing that our position is of great importance as maintaining the purity of religion or otherwise this deep stain of slavery is upon many of the churches if they are without an Association. I feel pained that any professing the same religion should be thus guilty and I believe that lukewarmness on such a subject renders us guilty we ought to be busy, it is our Christian labor, in most earnest labors to drive the disgraceful practice not only from the churches but from the face of the earth.
The Parkers were contrarians! The historical activism of this remarkable family compels me to consider how do I move from the usual underlying goal of public archaeology that merely promotes stewardship and increase public support for the preservation of archaeological sites to contemporary activism for social justice.
The journey begins!
Post written by Peggy Brunache, 2016-2017 Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow
McGinnis, Frederick Alphonso
1962 The Education of Negroes in Ohio. Curliss Printing Co., Blanchester, Ohio.
2005 The Black Laws: Race and the Legal Process in Early Ohio. Ohio University Press, Athens, OH.
2005 Frontiers of Freedom. Cincinnati’s Black Community, 1802-1868. Ohio University Press, Athens, OH.
Tillman, Linda C.
2009 The SAGE Handbook of African American Education. Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, California.