Hope Harrington Oakes
Students in Chuck Yarborough’s African American History class at the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science, partnering with members of the MSMS Voices in Harmony, MSMS Strings and students from Columbus High School, commemorated freedom in song as well as drama by portraying some of the area’s late-19th and early-20th century African American leaders during their annual Emancipation Day program. This year marks the 152nd anniversary of the end of slavery in Lowndes County, Mississippi, and the surrounding area with the Annual 8th of May Emancipation presentation, held in historic Sandfield Cemetery on the corner of College Street and 25th Street South, at 6 pm, Monday, May 8, 2017.
On May 8, 1865, Union troops first arrived in Columbus, effectively ending slavery in this area. The first local celebration of that emancipation was celebrated on May 8, 1866, and documented in the diary of a Freedmen’s Bureau school teacher from Indiana. The date continued to be celebrated for over a century in the area African American community.
Sandfield Cemetery was originally bought by the town of Columbus from the Kirk family in 1854 as a burying ground for African Americans. A local ordinance in July, 1854 required African Americans, slave or free, to be buried only in this cemetery. This tradition continued even after the Civil War ended. In the cemetery, many graves do not have gravestones or markers. Those that do meant that the deceased was from a family of some prominence in Columbus. People were interred in Sandfield Cemetery from 1865 to the 1950s. There are no longer burials in the cemetery. In his introduction, Yarborough pointed out the final resting places of some of the citizens honored in the presentation, and taking note that due to damage to some of the markers, some have been replaced. The annual program is sponsored by The Columbus Lowndes Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, Columbus-Lowndes Public Library, MSMS, Columbus Cultural Heritage Foundation, MSU’s Department of History and the Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority.