With the 8th Annual Ribs and Ragtime just around the corner and having attended the past seven, I was asked about the historical relevance of this event. I found myself grappling for a cohesive description, but realized the debut of Ribs and Ragtime had been “kept in incubation” for years. In 2001, it was conceived from the historical role of the Detroit River communities of Essex County in the celebration of the founding of Detroit, coined Detroit 300. From this, two companion monuments, along the Detroit River, were erected to symbolize the cooperation of freedom seeking activities between Canada and the US.
In 2002, the Black residents of Amherstburg, keenly aware of the numerous 19th Century Underground Railroad activities which occurred in their town, united its citizens, enlisted volunteers, including the town’s Police Department and those in surrounding communities, to organize the First Amherstburg Heritage Homecoming. Many of the activities were led by Donald and Janice Harris, which earned him the title of Grand Marshall of Amherstburg. The homecoming began with a reenactment of a freedom landing, where an oversized row boat bought refugees from Boblo Island to Elliot Pointe in Amherstburg. As the vessel approached the dock, a jubilant crowd of towns people and I, dressed in period attire, broke out in shouts, song and dance. Once the refugees touched soil, emotions escalated to hearty hugs, chants of liberation and more dancing. For one special moment, I stood motionless to embrace the spirit of my 3rd Great Uncle, Anthony Binga,Sr., who on his arrival had treaded these same sacred grounds 200 years ago and may times over to assist the daily advent of refugees.
The back in time experience was so authentic; it was difficult for many of us to get out of character. Yet, most participants reassembled for the Parade, carrying banners with surnames that represented the early Black families which settled in the area. Once reaching Ralph Mc Curdy Park, banners were hung on the fence and the aroma of grilled, burgers, hotdogs, barbeque chicken and rib dinners drew our attention to slow the pace to enjoy food, and conversations with loved ones and friends. There was something for everyone, including a raffle, beauty contest, children’s games and vendors. On Sunday, there was a church service, entertainment and recognitions of community persons.
The Homecomings were annual with the last one occurring in 2006, due the 2004 emergence of a competing Wine Festival at Fort Malden. Although, the expression that “All good things must come to an end”, appeared to be appropriate, I discovered that the Spirit, in many forms, lives on! In 2010, Kenn Stanton, the NABHM Administrator, shared a fund raising idea, which he called “Ribs and Ragtime”. During Kenn’s description of suggested activities, he mentioned that canopies with family names could be purchased; and although he continued with his report, I was a absorbed in the moment, visualizing the spread of family banners, decorating the fence after the Homecoming Parade.
So, on June 19, 2010, the First Annual Ribs and Ragtime came out of incubation and was ready to roll! I experienced the same spirit, the same energy when people came together to embrace and celebrate freedom. It did not matter that our experiences or “stories told” to acquire freedom differed. Nor did it matter if we were Black, White, Yellow or Red. We were all there, united in spirit because an Ancestor took a risk or survived a struggle and we did not forget!!!
Barbara K. Smith, Ph, D.
Amherstburg Freedom Museum, Director