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DELTA, Ohio — More than 100 years before the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his iconic “I Have A Dream Speech” on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, another Rev. King championed the message of racial equality in Delta.
Fifteen slaves got on a steamboat to Ohio on May 5, 1848, traveling 1,500 miles along the Mississippi and Ohio rivers to Cincinnati. Inheriting the slaves after the death of his wife, Rev. William King freed and transported the liberated men, women, and children to his family’s farm, which was a station on the Underground Railroad from 1838 to the end of the Civil War.
They spent 15 months at the Old King Farm in Delta before Mr. King took them to what is now North Buxton, Canada, in 1849.
Three memorial markers outside the Buxton National Historic Site and Museum commemorate Mr. King and detail the history behind the Canadian settlement.
“In Buxton they feel about Reverend King as we do about George Washington,” Ohio historian Naomi Twining of Toledo said. The project manager of a 10-year effort to memorialize Mr. King, Ms. Twining is responsible for three duplicate markers in Delta, erected in a parking lot overlooking the King family cemetery.
The monuments, installed on Monday, designate the cemetery’s recognition as an Underground Railroad site by the Ohio Historical Society and the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, an organization that acknowledges historic sites with a verifiable connection to the Underground Railroad.
The Old King Farm — now encompassing the American Legion Hall in Delta — has been recognized as an Underground Railroad station by six organizations, including the Network to Freedom and the Buxton National Historic Site and Museum.
A memorial dedication ceremony is slated for 5 p.m. today at Delta’s American Legion Post 373, which is across the street from the King family cemetery. The program will begin with demonstrations by the color guards of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 465 and American Legion Post 373.
“What I’m doing has never been done before — getting Canada involved in this,” Ms. Twining said. “We’re going to have American and Canadian flags at this event.”
The ceremony will include at least a half-dozen speakers, including two legion chaplains and the descendants of Mr. King and early Buxton settlers. John Swearingen, Jr., director of the Fulton County Historical Society, will illustrate the history of “Juneteenth,” the June 19 anniversary of the final battle of the Civil War. Rev. Eric Skillings — minister of St. Andrew’s United Church, which Mr. King founded in 1858 — will speak about Mr. King and his connection to the freed men of Buxton.
Ms. Twining will represent the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, reading a congratulatory letter sent by Diane Miller, national program manager. Thelma Quinn Smith, an Underground Railroad historian, will mention her descent from the early settlers in Buxton, and Bryan Prince, vice chairman of the Buxton Museum’s board of directors, will speak about the family of Solomon King, one of the 15 slaves Mr. King brought to Canada. Mr. Prince will bring Civil War records from the National Archives in Washington and will read short excerpts from letters written by Solomon King’s wife, stepfather, and half brother.
“A lot of the time the slaves as individuals are forgotten,” Mr. Prince said. “It’s nice to pick just one family and put a human face to it.”
The Network to Freedom accepted the King family cemetery as an Underground Railroad site in March, 2004, later accepting the Old King Farm in September, 2007, Ms. Miller said. The areas are two of 39 sites recognized by the Network to Freedom in Ohio, Ms. Twining said.
After the Network to Freedom’s approval, Ms. Twining and Kay Falor, vice president of the Delta American Legion Auxiliary, raised more than $15,000 in donations to pay for the development of three bronze memorial markers, Ms. Twining said.
The left plaque bears the Network to Freedom logo and a brief history of the farm and the cemetery. An etching of Mr. King and a list of contributors adorns the center plaque, while the right marker provides a detailed history of the King family and involvement with the Underground Railroad.
Ms. Twining also has been responsible for the installation of memorial markers commemorating the Electric-Autolite Strike, the Ohio-Michigan Boundary War, and the onion workers’ strike of 1934.
After the installation in Delta, Ms. Twining will go to Grand Rapids, where she will place at least two markers outside the Howard House Pioneer Inn, an Underground Railroad site approved by the Network to Freedom in 2009. She also will set up markers outside buildings belonging to the National Registry of Historic Places, such as the Jacob Heeter House and the Thurston Building.
“I felt that people were lecturing from books, but no one put up something solid to commemorate the site,” she said. “We need monuments to show the community where something happened.”
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