Along the banks of the Ohio river, lives a deep history of human occupation. Known famously for its integral and symbolic nature, the river that flows into the Mississippi gave meaning to the dividing ties of the North and South during the Civil War (April 12, 1861-May 13, 1865). The issues of slavery were only resolved over much bloodshed. However, the stories of the people, on either side, show the complexities of a battle within a country fighting to remain intact while its people are screaming for division. Despite the harrowing stories of war and loss of life, there was a beacon of hope for Blacks in the Ohio River Valley – the Clermont Academy of New Richmond, Ohio. Established in 1839, Clermont Academy is believed to be one of the first preparatory schools in the United States devoted to educating males and females, regardless of color. It was a pioneer in the educational advancements of equality by encompassing the progressive thoughts of Northern abolitionists. Bringing these ideals to the forefront of the battle between freed and enslaved individuals in the United States, the Parker family and their commonly referred to “Parker Academy” became a refuge.
The story of the Parker family and their revolutionary academy is one that could have been completely lost over time. After a devastating flood in New Richmond in 1937, the academy school house and men’s dormitory were destroyed beyond repair and subsequently demolished a few years later. Now, the trees and vegetation have taken over the land where these buildings once stood. The Parker’s academy has become a forgotten symbol of a place and time that once struggled with ideas of unity, equality, and freedom for all.
Through the work of historical archaeology and public history, the story of the Parkers and the Clermont Academy is being brought back to life. Faculty and students from Northern Kentucky University (NKU) have taken on the responsibility of telling the story through their current and ongoing research project. This work is being conducted through the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Parker Academy project, sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF). This multidisciplinary collaboration among historians, geographers, and anthropologists engages diverse student participants in research exploring important problems of race, gender equality, and social justice in American History through archaeological excavations and archival research at the Parker Academy site in southern Ohio. The Parker Academy NSF REU is directed by Dr. William J. Landon and Dr. Sharyn Jones. The program provides an exciting and unique educational experience for undergraduates through hands-on research with an opportunity to earn academic credit. By participating in this project students learn about archival research, US History, GIS, and archaeology as they gain practical skill-based knowledge that transcends disciplinary boundaries.
The magic of the words of the Parker family and their students comes alive through historical documents and the photographs that are part of a rich archive. These documents provide stunning vivid images of the people and when combined with the scattered remains of material culture excavated on the former academy’s grounds, the remarkable Parker family story lives on. The story is still unfolding as our work continues and the daily lives of the students and the Parkers is explored in through both the archaeology and the archival documents.
Sharing the Parker Academy story with the community is an important part of the Parker Academy NSF REU project. A variety of public outreach endeavors are underway. As a research team we are working to create an open space for the public to learn about the Parker’s story through programs, school visits, volunteer excavation days, library exhibits, and other events. In the tri-state area, including the village of New Richmond and beyond, discussion panels and exhibits have been created to provide an opportunity for the local community to hear and see the history that is in their own backyard. Narratives about life at the Academy were gathered to create lesson plans for local schools to help teach about equality through education in the Civil War ear. This past spring, NSF REU Fellows from NKU presented these lessons to Hughes STEM High School of Cincinnati. Multiple social media sites have been created to reach a wider audience as well. These sites provide access to historical documents and their transcriptions, photographs from the archives, an extensive GIS story map, and pictures of artifacts recovered from archaeological excavations.
Community archaeology has also played a major role in sharing the story of the Parker Academy. By engaging with the public, the Parker Academy NSF REU faculty and students are able to share archaeological findings and continue to promote the stewardship that the Parker family began over 150 years ago. Through community archaeology, the public has the opportunity to reconstruct their own perspective on the past. Previous excavations have included undergraduates, graduates, professors, historians, NKU’s president, the president of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, and a wide range of volunteers. By conducting such work and providing an open platform, the NSF REU project team has shared the discoveries from both the archaeological field and historical archives. The message of equality is as imperative today as it was when the school was established. Only through community engagement can the story of the Parker Academy and the Parker family be told properly.
Written by Andrea Shiverdecker, Liza Vance, William Landon, and Sharyn Jones
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Additionally, Dr. Landon has also written and presented a series titled: “Books that Matter: ‘The Prince'” for The Great Courses. A new series titled “24 Works of Historical Genius is forthcoming.
Dr. Landon has delivered popular lectures and conference presentations on Renaissance Italy to audiences on three continents.
communities surrounding the Orange Walk District in Belize which can be seen at www.blue2orange.com or on Instagram @blue_2_orange. Personal longtime research delves into the art and origins of body modifications and personal adornment of humankind across the world and its transitions throughout time. She will graduate in December of 2018 with hopes to attend graduate school in the future.