STEUBENVILLE - John S. Mattox stood before Steubenville High School students and Wells Academy pupils Friday morning and identified himself as the great-great-grandson of a slave.
"My great-great-grandmother was a slave on the Alton plantation in Raleigh, North Carolina," stated Mattox, the curator of the Flushing Underground Railroad Museum.
"You don't have to go thousands of miles to find out what happened in our history. It is all around you here in Ohio. There were 23 points of entry into Ohio. And anyone was free to come into the state, but you had to have someone sign for you or you had to have a $500 bond. And I don't have to tell you not too many people in the early 1800s had $500," related Mattox.
UNDERGROUND RAILROAD — John S. Mattox, the curator of the Flushing Underground Railroad Museum, spoke Friday morning at the Steubenville High School Honor America ceremony. The 34th-annual Honor America event was sponsored by the Steubenville High School Key Club.
"By 1850 the Fugitive Slave Law was in effect. If you helped someone escape from slavery to freedom you could face a fine or six months in jail. But certain individuals, including Quakers and Presbyterians, and other people worked to help slaves attain their freedom," continued Mattox.
"But the Underground Railroad was people who used their houses, businesses and churches to help slaves escape to the north. They even used the briar patch to hide people. The largest slave revolt in this country occurred on Jan. 9-10, 1811, in New Orleans, where people were seeking their freedom," cited Mattox.
"The slaves were hunted down and had their heads cut off. The heads were placed on poles. That's what your ancestors did for you to be free today," said Mattox.
"I can take you to Wheeling, where in the 1800s slaves were sold at a public auction. They were marched from the slave pens to the market that was located at 10th and Market streets," he said.
"People have been running away for years. All they wanted was their freedom. A slave was considered three-fifths of a person by our Founding Fathers. Some people were not even considered a person - they were considered property. There was a time when people of color were not considered equal. Today that is not possible. But you should remember to be a better American by participating in the culture of citizenship," stated Mattox.
"When I look out into the audience this morning I see all kinds of people," noted Mattox.
He also called for the students to stand and give their instructors a good round of applause for trying to make you right for your future."
"If you have no idea what direction to go after school, take one of your extracurricular activities and you may be able to turn it into a career," Mattox advised the audience.
"I invite you to visit the Flushing Underground Railroad Museum. We are open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays or by appointment," Mattox said.
During the 34th-annual Honor America ceremony Lexi Biasi, an eighth-grader at Harding Middle School, was recognized for her essay titled, the "Emancipation Proclamation."
And, the Steubenville High School Key Club gave special recognition to 91-year-old Weirton resident Steve Garvey, who served with the United States Navy during World War II.
According to Brandon Llewellyn, Key Club vice president, Garvey was born in Minnesota and enlisted in the Navy when he turned 21.
"After the war he moved to Steubenville where he married and started a career at the Weirton Steel Corp.," recited Llewellyn.