Fellowship keeps slave's story alive
The gravestone for runaway slave Charles Washington will be dedicated during a ceremony in September.
By AMANDA C. DAVIS
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WARREN -- The story of Charles Washington could have ended with his death.
But more than a century later comes the final chapter that is sure to keep his memory alive.
The youth fellowship at Third Christian Church on First Street S.E. has raised enough money to mark the local burial site of Washington, a fugitive slave who came to Warren in the 1850s from Virginia.
During a 2 p.m. ceremony Sept. 2, they'll dedicate the headstone they bought for Washington's grave in Oakwood Cemetery on state Route 169.
Escape: Washington was one of five slaves who escaped from Loudon County, Va., headed toward Pittsburgh, traveled the Underground Railroad through Salem and eventually settled in Warren.
He died March 5, 1900, a few days after a railroad accident crushed his right foot, which was then amputated by doctors. He was buried in an unmarked grave in Oakwood Cemetery.
Jim Patti, a designer with Crown Monument's Youngstown office, said the company's owner, Tunis Selby, asked for his help in designing the headstone.
The circumstances of Washington's life and death made the project interesting, Patti said, adding, "It's different from what I usually do because of the history involved."
Dorothy Edwards, youth director at the church, said she learned that Washington's grave was unmarked after listening to a Black History Month presentation given by Trumbull County historian Wendell Lauth at Howland Community Church.
Lauth has said Washington, his brother and three other men made it to Salem, heard there were slave catchers looking for them and headed north to Warren around New Year's Day, 1857.
Washington lived on South Street with his wife, Leanna, who died in 1925 and is buried in another part of the cemetery.
Edwards said U.S. Census reports indicate Washington was a domestic worker born in 1835.
Public ceremony: Tamara Cooper, the youth group's co-director, said the unveiling ceremony will be open to the public.
The group raised a little more than $900 to purchase the headstone, and Crown Monument, which has an office across the street from the cemetery, agreed to match the amount.
"It's been great, we've had a lot of community support," Cooper said.
Area churches and congregations donated money for the cause and businesses agreed to put out a jar to collect change.
Cooper said learning about slavery and their ancestors gave the youths an opportunity to travel back in time.
"It was a way to bring history to life for them," she said.
Edwards, wife of the church's pastor, the Rev. General Edwards, said she worked on the project with Cooper and a handful of area pupils.
Accomplishment: She said she's proud the group accomplished what it set out to do.
"I'm happy we got the response we did," she said. "I couldn't ask for anything better."
The project provided a learning experience for the children, she said, but added, "I'm not sure they'll recognize the value of what we've done until they're adults."
Alicia Robinson, 12, and her brother, Anthony, 15, are youth group members.
Alicia said she enjoyed learning about Washington and feels good she was able to help raise money to commemorate his life.
The dark headstone was erected Wednesday and depicts an image of a runaway slave on the front. The top says "North To Liberty," and under Washington's name, "Linking the past with the present and the future," and "Eternal rest from a long journey" are engraved.
The church youth group is recognized at the bottom of the headstone.
Map: On the back is a rough map of Washington's route, denoting his struggle north to freedom, from Virginia to West Virginia and into Ohio.
LeAnn Jackson, 21, and Monica Freeman, 20, both of Warren, are youth advisers and helped with the project. Helping to preserve Washington's life story will hopefully prompt the young people to further explore their heritage, Jackson said.
"This has taught them a lesson about history and how hard it was for this man to travel so far," Freeman said.