It's February and that means Black History Month. As a former elementary school teacher, I know that children all over the country are reading biographies and writing reports of all the famous African Americans that helped to form, improve, and influence our country and its people. There will be numerous projects and posters featuring Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, and all the other well-known people. But what about the not so well-known? What about the others who were just as brave, just as influential, just as contributing, but never made it to national "celebrity" status?
Each February, my third graders were immersed in all stories and biographies of the well-known "famous" people, but they also were introduced to a not so well-known African American, John Parker, through Doreen Rappaport's book Freedom River. The book tells of one particularly dangerous trip that John, a passionate abolitionist, made to Kentucky to help bring a slave family one step closer to their freedom. My South Carolina students discovered a new hero from a small town on the Ohio River who showed them the importance of standing up for what you believe in.
I have always felt a connection with this Virginia born man who lived in the 1800's. I am sure that some of my Ripley and Brown County, Ohio area ancestors such as the Montgomery's, Gates's, and Guy's must have known, and probably did business with John Parker. John was a former slave who bought his freedom and eventually settled in Ripley, Ohio where he owned and operated the Phoenix Foundry and Machine Company. Today, his home is a museum dedicated to teaching others about his remarkable life.
Greg Haitz, president of the John P. Parker Historical Society in Ripley, sent me this link to the blog post Parker Was a Daring Slave Rescuer, on Cincinnati.com, written by Cincinnati Enquirer reporter Steve Kemme. In his post, Kemme tells the story of this remarkable man. If you are interested in discovering one of the lesser-known African Americans, you will find John Parker's story fascinating. He truly deserves to be in the ranks of those like Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and all the others that we so often hear about. He deserves to be the subject of Black History Month projects of children all over this country.