Tuesday, October 28, 2008

REPORTER BLOG: History 101

Ryan Scarpino

History is a very broad concept; it has many definitions. Regardless of which definition you prefer, the three words found in every meaning are, “in the past.” So those events that happened in the past are considered history. For me, I learned a little more about history on October 18 while I covered the historic landmark designation ceremony for a house on West Washington Street, where Booker T. Washington married Olivia Davidson.

Though Washington never lived in Athens, his influence on the African American community is still present today, more than one hundred years after his marriage in Athens. And as I watched the ceremony and listened to the guest speakers, I realized how much actual history was behind the celebration, and I couldn’t be any happier.

So Much To Learn
I would first like to say that I am a history buff. I am taking a concentration of history courses at Ohio University, and for some reason I have always been fascinated with the events that shaped our country. So when I was asked to cover the ceremony, I was thrilled. I remember walking to the West Washington Street site with a smile on my face, even though it was cold October morning, because I knew that I was going to learn a lot about a significant event that took place in Athens.

Let The Ceremony Begin
The ceremony itself consisted of speakers from the Athens County Historical Society and Museum, the Department of African American Studies at OU, Mayor Wiehl, and OU President, Roderick McDavis. All of them prepared excellent speeches that paid tribute to the late Booker T. Washington.

But there came a time during the ceremony when my eyes caught a group of elderly men and women sitting in the front row. Some were the ancestors of Mr. Washington and others were Tuskegee University alumni, who were there to thank the late Mr. Washington for founding the Alabama University.

Tuskegee University Graduate
One of those alumna was Ms. Helen Smith. She graduated from Tuskegee University in 1965. And before she said her thanks to the Booker T. Washington, she did something that brought a tear to everyone’s eyes in the audience. She asked her daughter and grandchildren to stand up, and she thanked them for making the trip to Athens with her.

I spoke with Ms. Smith after the ceremony while she posed for a picture with her family. She was such a nice woman; she was full of happiness and she was so proud to be a part of the celebration. She had something about her. I think it was her presence because when she talked to audience members, they were captivated.

From Generation to Generation
I also spoke with Nettie Washington Douglass, great granddaughter of Booker T. Washington. And if you look at the last name, Douglass, yes, she is a descendent of former slave turned free man, Frederick Douglass. If you want to talk about history, then Nettie Washington Douglass has many stories. My jaw dropped when she told me that she was the descendent of two of the most important African Americans of the 19th century. Ms. Washington Douglass was so kind and generous. She was thrilled to be a part of the ceremony to commemorate her great grandparents’ marriage, a marker that would be at 193 West Washington Street for all time.

A Lifelong Memory

If you get the time, read more about Mr. Washington because he was one of the most influential African Americans in American history. For me, this was my first story where no one declined to comment or declined an interview. This was one of those stories that assured me that I want to do this for life. I was fortunate enough to get a history lesson, learning about Booker T. Washington and his influence on Athens, talking to his ancestors and speaking with those people he influenced. And this is one story that I won’t soon forget.

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