Friday, July 23, 2010

Random Shots From Berea, Kentucky

In all the hustle and bustle of attempting to get prepared for an upcoming presentation at the National Underground Railroad Conference, and many other work-related duties, it was nice to be able to gather some inspiration from the beautiful hills of Berea, Kentucky.

The December 1859 exile of John G. Fee and his fellow missionaries from Madison County and the state of Kentucky makes up one of the two talking points that I will be presenting in my paper. So, it was especially excited to get to see some of the places that figure prominently into this story while I was in Berea this past week for a digital stories seminar with a cohort of our Teaching American History grant teachers.

During some of my free moments I did some exploring around this small town and was not real surprised to see many evidences of John G. Fee and his legacy. Berea College makes up a significant part of the town, and although the oldest building on campus, Union Church, dates back to only 1865, there are other reminders of this institution's birth in anti-slavery work and the Civil War era. College buildings such as Fairchild Hall and Lincoln Hall quickly come to mind. Fairchild was the first president of Berea College and was an Oberlin College alum. Many of Fee's fellow missionaries had roots at Oberlin.

In the town is a small park that has a statue set produced by artist Stan Watts in 2005-06 that features John Fee and Elizabeth Rodgers, whose husband John A.R. Rogers, was the first principal of Berea School. The Rogers were, of course, exiled from Kentucky along with the Fees and several other families in the wake of John Brown's raid. The statues depict Fee's ideal learning environment of an integrated and co-educational school that was anti-cast and temperance-minded. Fee's dream was realized in 1866 when Berea College opened and became the first interracial and coeducational school in the South.

A closer look at Fee and two of the students.

Fee spoke at the Glade Christian Church in Madison County before moving to Berea from northeastern Kentucky in 1854. The Berea settlement was started on land that local emancipationist Cassius M. Clay donated to Fee and his American Missionary Associate friends. Fee had a number of colporteurs who scattered throughout the neighboring counties preaching abolitionist ideas. He and a number of his missionary associates were mobbed and tarred and feathered for expressing their egalitarian sentiments, before they were finally told to leave the county and state. Appeals to Governor Magoffin to stay in Madison County were denied and Fee had to wait until the end of the Civil War to return to Berea to finish the institution he had started.

Fee and his wife Matilda are buried in Berea Cemetery just outside of town. Their monument is a tribute to their perseverance and equal opportunity ideals.

If you get a chance to stop in Berea when you are on I-75 please do. There are craft stores and fantastic places to eat, and an inspiring and special history that makes for a great atmosphere.

No comments:

Post a Comment