Sunday, February 5, 2017

KENNETT: A walking tour through history

On Saturday afternoon I was one of the volunteer guides for a Black History Month walking tour through downtown Kennett that highlighted 19th-century abolitionists and members of the African-American community.
Despite the freezing temperatures, we had a huge turnout of visitors; they even started showing up 15 minutes before the tours were set to officially kick off.
The tour started at the Underground Railroad mural at State and Willow Streets, which depicts conductor Harriet Tubman holding a lantern. From there we walked north on Willow Street, west on Linden Street to Union Street, and then over to the Genesis Walkway, stopping at houses and churches of historical interest.
At the New Garden Memorial AME Church on Linden Street, the Rev. Maxine Mayo welcomed us warmly and told us about the church's 191-year history, highlighting the important role churches have played in the black community (and still do).
She said that on New Year's Eve, her church and many others still hold "Watch Night" to remember how African Americans gathered in the hours before the Emancipation Proclamation officially took effect on Jan. 1, 1863, unsure of what would happen. 
The New Garden AME church and burial ground were originally located in the Bucktoe or "Timbucktoo" part of Kennett Township but the building was burned down in the mid-19th century and the parishioners decided it was safer to rebuild in town. The former church site (now part of the Bucktoe Creek Preserve) is being excavated, with a view to providing headstones for those who are buried there, and one of the project archaeologists showed us some relics that have been found at the site, such as some fragments of marble and a 19th-century penny from the Netherlands.
Also at the church, Michelle Sullivan from the Kennett Underground Railroad Center explained the vital role that freed slaves and other African Americans, not just white Quakers, played in helping slaves escape via the Underground Railroad.
By the end of leading two tours, I was so cold that I could barely enunciate "ardent abolitionist" one more time. Thank goodness for local historian Lynn Sinclair, who wrote the tour script: she opened her Sunrise CafĂ© on State Street to tourgoers and provided us with cookies, tea, and coffee.

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