This article first appeared in www.chathamdailynews.ca on September 7, 2020
Participants didn’t have to leave home to attend the 97th annual Buxton Homecoming.
The Labour Day weekend celebration at North Buxton – formerly one of the last stops on the Underground Railroad for escaped slaves – had only online events this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re missing family from all across Canada and the U.S. not being here,” said Shannon Prince, curator of the Buxton National Historic Site & Museum. “They’ve sent best wishes. And when something has happened virtually, they will either message or call to say, ‘Oh, man, I wish I was there to enjoy that with everybody.’
“Those family connections are definitely missed, so we’re hoping that everybody can gather again to reconnect and share the memories because we don’t want to lose that. We don’t want to lose the history. Hopefully next year we will.”
The homecoming began Friday with three speakers taking part in a history conference.
“They were all very, very fascinating. … You’re just learning constantly, so it was great,” Prince said.
Dred Scott Heritage Foundation president and founder Lynne M. Jackson of St. Louis spoke about the legacy of Dred and Harriet Scott, her great-great-grandparents. The Dred Scott case – the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 1857 that Blacks couldn’t be citizens – is considered one cause of the Civil War.
Gayle George of Rockville, Md., a descendant of John and Arabella Weems, talked about her enslaved ancestors’ escape to freedom in Kent County.
Cheryl Thompson of Scarborough spoke about Black beauty entrepreneurship and its history.
More than 100 people watched the conference online.
“That was a great opportunity to really showcase the history that we do have here,” Prince said. “And … those that have not been able to attend (before), maybe this will put a little spark in them to say, ‘Wow, I really have to put this in my calendar for next year to go and really appreciate what they do offer here.’”
The party in the park Saturday was replaced by online musical acts. The performers included LL Cool and the James Girls, Camryn Dudley, and 12-year-old Atia Johnson.
“I think some (viewers) were even having their own little Soul Train line somewhere, wherever they were,” Prince said.
Worship services were held Sunday. The popular parade Monday had video clips of previous parades and interviews about the homecoming’s history.
The museum remains closed, but Prince said it will reopen before the end of the year and maybe as soon as this month.
Attendance will be limited to 10 guests at a time for health and safety reasons. Appointments will be mandatory.
Visitors will not be allowed to touch the museum exhibits.
“The other really sad thing for me is, because we’re so handson, people won’t be allowed to pick up those original children’s shackles, the slave ship shackles, the adult shackles, because that to me is such an integral part of this story,” Prince said. “They need to really understand that these were actually worn by people. It puts everything into context. … It is really unfortunate, but at least they’ll be able to see them.”
Plans are also underway for the centennial anniversary in 2023.
“Different people are already putting together ideas for the 100th, so look out!” Prince said, laughing.