February 7, 2009
Neal Wagner -
Black, white, purple or green, skin color makes no difference when examining the history of the Friendly City, according to Chuck Yarborough, a history teacher at the Mississippi University for Mathematics and Science.
"We are not out here to talk about black history or white history," Yarborough told a bus of about 20 people Saturday during an African-American Heritage Tour sponsored by the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau. "We are here today to talk about our history as people who live in Columbus."
More than 40 people of all genders and races packed a pair of small tour buses Saturday morning to take a driving tour of several landmarks historically significant to the city''s black community.
"We have three bus tours scheduled for today, and all the seats were filled up last week," Nancy Carpenter, manager of the CVB Cultural Heritage Foundation, said Saturday morning. "In fact, we actually added a third bus to our last tour of the day at 1 p.m. to try to let some more people join us."
The buses shuttled local residents and out-of-town visitors from the Tennessee Williams Welcome Center to the Columbus Riverwalk, through Catfish Alley on Fourth Street South and to Sandfield Cemetery near Propst Park. The tour also included stops at Missionary Union Baptist Church on Fifth Avenue North and the Temple Heights house.
"We know that one of the routes of the Underground Railroad ran along the valley of the Tennessee-Tombigbee River," Yarborough told the group. "They were able to follow this river north until they were able to cross over to the Tennessee River and continue on to freedom."
As Yarborough and Carpenter shared a wealth of knowledge related to the city''s history during the nearly two-hour tour, many on the buses praised the pair of local historians.
"I just can''t believe how much they knew about the history of everywhere we went this morning," said Rita Granderson, a teacher at Cook Elementary School. "I would love it if Chuck published all of his research on Columbus'' history. I think if people read everything he knows about Columbus, they would want to get out here and really take a look at some of the places we went today."
In addition to explaining the city''s history as an Underground Railroad hub, Yarborough and Carpenter also shared the story of some of the area''s most influential black leaders.
"A lot of people think black-owned businesses in the 19th and 20th centuries were confined only to Catfish Alley," Yarborough said. "But in reality, African-American businesses back then were spread all over the town.
"They certainly weren''t the majority of businesses here back then, but they definitely had a significant presence throughout the city," Yarborough added.
In addition to the driving tours, visitors also took walking tours of the Sandfield Cemetery -- the burial place of many black leaders from the 1800s and early 1900s -- Missionary Union Baptist Church and an Antebellum kitchen and slave house at Temple Heights.
"There was definitely a lot of stuff presented on the tour that I did not know before," said Darren Leach, Columbus resident and pastor of Genesis Church. "A lot of people have probably been living here their entire lives without knowing the history of the city''s black community."
Local resident Jasmine Salter echoed Leach''s praise, saying the tour offered information she may have never known had she not participated in the heritage event.
"Oh yeah, I though it was good. It was definitely informative," Salter said with a smile. "I am very glad that I got up and came out here this morning."