PIQUA — The Piqua Public Library has several exhibits and presentations planned in honor of Black History Month in February. Throughout the month, the library will feature stories and authors in book displays for all ages.
African-Americans in Piqua will be the focus of a lobby display, just inside the building entrance. A movie matinee of the film “The Help,” which is set in the Civil Rights era, will be shown on Monday, Feb. 15, at 2 p.m. The 146-minute film is rated PG-13.
The evening of Wednesday, Feb. 10, Library Director James Oda will present a session of the library’s “Portals to Piqua’s Past” series, focused on the role of African-Americans in the Civil War. This presentation will include references of local interest, as well as reviewing the national context for events.
According to Oda, “Many northern soldiers fought to end slavery in the south during the Civil War. But northern states did not allow ‘the Negro’ to fight for his own rights until January of 1863. This is when Massachusetts broke the race barrier and actively began recruiting for the ‘54th and 55th Regiments of Color’. But the state had a problem: only a relative few free blacks lived within its borders. Massachusetts sent out recruiters into other states including Ohio. Two men from Piqua joined the units and took their places in the first African-American units in the north. A review of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment is shown in the very well done movie ‘Glory’.”
Ohio formed its own ‘Regiment of Color’ in June of 1863, encouraging local African-Americans to become soldiers. However, all of the officers were white in the segregated units. Also, state and local enlistment bonuses were denied to the new recruits. Blacks were encouraged to fight and die for the union – but not to live next to their fellow white soldiers or to participate in the state or federal government’s political process.
Only in death were African-American Civil War soldiers given equality. Their graves were placed in and among those of white soldiers. After the war, African Americans and whites also served together in the veterans’ organization known as the Grand Army of the Republic.
Portals to Piqua’s Past will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 10, at 7 p.m. in the library’s Louis Room. Displays and exhibits are available during regular library hours: Monday-Thursday 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; closed Sundays.