Vicki Russell has fond memories of the initial meetings of the Sharp End Heritage Committee in early 2015.
Russell, now vice-chair of the committee, remembers the laser-like focus the committee had on commemorating the Sharp End and its former collection of Black-owned businesses.
The committee achieved part of its goal in May 2015, when the first historical marker was unveiled downtown. Then, it was onto the next step of their mission — an entire African American Heritage Trail in Columbia.
“We started this trail project on faith,” Russell said.
The committee had no idea how large the project would grow or where the money would come from at the time.
Their faith was realized on Thursday; the committee unveiled its final historical marker and held a virtual celebration and ribbon-cutting ceremony for the opening of a 2-mile trail with 22 historic markers commemorating important Black figures and institutions in Columbia.
The final marker will be installed in Flat Branch Park later this month.
“Many of the histories that are remembered on the markers are largely unknown outside of the Black community,” said Jim Whitt, the chair of the Sharp End Heritage Committee. “It is critical that we share the stories of enterprise and success so that everyone understands that there was a time when Columbia’s landscape was quite different.”
Whitt believed it was important to show the prosperity of Black-owned businesses in Sharp End; it was a self-sufficient community that thrived during segregation in the early 1900s before urban renewal forced many business owners to sell in the 1960s.
Barbra Horrell, vice-chair of the committee, believes that this history highlights a pathway for further unity within the city.
“I believe that the trail offers a powerful opportunity to honor the (city’s) Black past,” Horrell said. “At the same time it gives us (the) knowledge going forward, as a city, as we create a better future and a diverse future for all of us in Colombia.”
The committee also debuted its partnership with OtoCast, an app that serves as an audio guide for the trail. OtoCast will help find historical markers, as well as provide further context and information on each location, according to Columbia Parks and Recreation planning and development superintendent Mike Snyder.
Brochures with an outline of the trail and further information will be provided at the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau, Region Economic Development Incorporated (REDI) office on Walnut Street, Columbia Parks and Recreation offices and the “Blind” Boone Home. These brochures will be available in the upcoming weeks, Snyder said.
Mayor Brian Treece acknowledged the unusual nature of the online dedication due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, this is a great time for families to explore the trail safely outdoors and learn about the rich history of African Americans in this community, he said.
“From the historic Sharp End to the prominent churches that serve as a cornerstone to the community, everyone can learn something from exploring the trail,” City Manager John Glascock said.
The completed trail includes stops at the Tibbs Building, Douglass Park and Pool & Russell Chapel, Columbia Cemetery and many others.
The committee was able to create markers for all of the historic individuals and institutions they highlighted in their initial meetings and several more with the help of individual and corporate donations, Russell said.
Russell, the former publisher for the Columbia Daily Tribune, was one of many that donated to help pay for the markers.
However, the completion of the trail isn’t the end of the committee’s work in the community.
The goal of the trail is to educate and continue the memory of notable African Americans from the city, but 22 markers doesn’t encapsulate everything Whitt hopes to pass on to a new generation of learners.
“We’ve been working on this trail for more than five years and we are not finished,” Whitt said. “We are here today to dedicate the trail, but there will be continued efforts to find more histories within the Black community and make them available in the future in various ways.”
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