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By David Camphouse
On Monday, September 13, the New Philadelphia Association will honor Free Frank McWorter, who in 1836 was the first African American to plat and register a town in the United States.
Sept. 13 is being celebrated as Free Frank Freedom Day, according to New Philadelphia Executive Director Marynel Corton, because Frank McWorter purchased his freedom and became “Free Frank” on that day 202 years ago.
“We are doing it in honor of the day he bought his freedom in 1819,” Corton said.
This event celebrating his freedom coincides with the Pike County Bicentennial Celebration and the National Park Service Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Month.
Free Frank Freedom Day will begin at 2 p.m. at the New Philadelphia town site east of Barry.
“We invite people to come out beforehand to tour the site,” Corton said. “Shortly before 2 p.m., the Pike Pipers will perform three songs, including one which was composed by New Philadelphia resident Hermes Zimmerman.”
New Philadelphia board member Phil Bradshaw will kick off the celebration’s slate of speakers at 2 p.m. Other speakers include descendants of the McWorter family, elected officials and historians.
“McWorter family members will be speaking,” Corton said. “They’ll be joined by historians and State Senator Steve McClure.”
Another reason for the celebration’s timing, according to Corton, is that the New Philadelphia site is being considered by the U.S. Congress for inclusion in the National Park system.
“We thought it was a timely year to start the celebration since there is currently a bill moving through Congress that would make New Philadelphia a unit of the National Park Service,” Corton said.
Following the program at the New Philadelphia town site, retired Brigadier General Donald L. Scott will give a keynote address at 4p.m. at the Barry Baptist Church.
According to Corton, Scott has had a varied and consequential career in public service.
“General Scott has a very interesting background,” Corton said. “After his military career, he served as the Deputy Librarian at the Library of Congress and he was a founding director of the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps, and he worked for the Mayor of Atlanta.”
Closer to Pike County, Corton added, Scott has served as a board member of Hannibal’s Jim’s Journey Museum.
Corton also said that, in the month of September, Barry will host the Illinois Freedom Project’s travelling exhibit, which highlights African American history in Illinois.
“The Freedom Project is an educational display of early Illinois African American trailblazers,” Corton said. “In Barry, for the exhibit, we’re adding information on Free Frank and New Philadelphia.”
The Illinois Freedom Project exhibit will be housed at the Barry Apple Festival headquarters on the 700 block of Bainbridge Street from Sept. 8 to Sept. 17.
For more information on Free Frank Freedom Day or the Illinois Freedom Project, contact Corton at 217-335-2716 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information may also be found on the New Philadelphia Association Facebook page.