May 8 celebration returns to Sandfield Cemetery


On Thursday, students from the Mississippi School of Mathematics and Science gathered on campus in clothes worthy of another era, rereading scripts as they prepare to pay tribute to some of the most African Americans. most notable in the history of Columbus.

MSMS students from Chuck Yarborough’s African-American History course will commemorate the arrival of Union troops in Columbus on May 8, 1865, with interpretations based on research from notable black Colombians of the past.

The program will begin at 6 p.m. on Monday at Sandfield Cemetery, and it is free to attend. Yarborough said chairs will be provided, but everyone is welcome to bring their own chair from home.

The program is similar to Tales from the Crypt on the Pilgrimage, but it has its differences. The performance is on a stage rather than a tomb and usually lasts an hour.

When Yarborough came to Columbus in the late 1990s, he noticed a need for better research on local historical black leaders, so he made it his mission to help fill in some of the gaps.

chuck yarborough

“I researched the possibility of doing a Tales from the Crypt-like project with my students in the African-American Cemetery because my master’s thesis explored African-American culture and empowerment in a rural southwestern county. of Georgia,” Yarborough said. “I discovered that there weren’t enough resources in the library and available in the archives to unleash a whole class on this idea in the late 90s. Then I continued to do my own individual research for several years and organized black history tours for various groups.

May 8’s first dramatic performance was in 2006, and it’s only grown since then. Yarborough African American History students undertake research projects on Columbus community leaders, and for those who wish, their project comes to life in a dramatic performance near the end of the semester during the celebration.

For Carolena Graham, a Columbus native and senior MSMS, performing has been something she grew up with and finds very rewarding to be involved with.

“As a kid I always heard about it and even attended one with my grandmother but I really didn’t understand the significance of it until I attended MSMS and talked about it. more with Mr. Yarborough of emancipation,” Graham said. “Actually, I understood that Union troops were coming to Columbus, not just anywhere in Mississippi,…to free slaves. … It’s important to me because it’s local and I never really knew much about our local history. It is very liberating to learn more about the local history.

Graham’s research focused on Cyrus Green who in 1866 taught at the Freedmen’s Bureau School which was to become the Union Academy. Graham discovered that when Green, an Indiana native, was in Columbus, he wrote a journal about his time in the city less than a year after the Civil War ended.

“In my research on the Freedmen’s Bureau School, I found a journal of Cyrus Green in which he documented his stay here in Columbus for four months,” Graham said. “I thought he was one of the best people to write about because he had direct contact and dealt with the mental and physical challenges of that time.”

The dramatic performance will cover historical figures such as Emmett Lanier, a World War I veteran and part of the famous Buffalo Soldiers; Richard Denthrift Littlejohn, a newspaper publisher; and William I. Mitchell, the first black headmaster of Union Academy in 1877.

Jayden Cochran, a junior from Indianola, is excited to represent Mitchell because it’s an opportunity for him to give back to the community he currently lives in.

“This project meant something very special to me because we were able to seek out people from that same community, people that this community could be proud of,” Cochran said. “One thing that MSMS has focused on is giving back to the community and that’s something I looked forward to when I came here, not just to get better opportunities for myself, but to use these opportunities to help the people I grew up with.”

In addition to the dramatic performance, the celebration will include music from the student-led MSMS Voices in Harmony choir and spoken word poetry.

“We are all empowered when we more fully understand our community’s history,” Yarborough said. “Students have learned this through their research, and they’re very passionate about sharing this with the wider community.”


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