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By Jim Bucher

As we celebrate another Black History Month, I recall my reporting days at channel 2. Apologies first though, because this column is at the tail end of February. But can’t Black History Month be celebrated year round?

Well, back in my reporting days at channel 2. My friend and co-host Fran Robinson of the station’s 2 on the Town daily entertainment/events and happenings segment, sometimes traveled outside Dayton in search of places of interest for our viewers.

We both decided to highlight the Underground Railroad around the Buckeye State. Ohio was a refuge for runaway slaves with many abolitionists risking life and limb to guarantee freedom for all.

Our travels took us to Ripley, Ohio, and the former home of the Rev. John Rankin and his wife, Jean.

Now, our job was to report and share information with others, but lots of times, we learned a thing or two ourselves.

The Rankins’ story is an amazing one. Their home, built in 1825, sits high atop a hill overlooking the Ohio River with Kentucky on the other side. Being the only house on the bluff, it was easy to spot.

A coal lantern was illuminated at night signaling to runaway slaves that it was safe to cross.

I can only imagine the euphoria of our African-American brothers and sisters making that trek to freedom.

More than 2,000 runaway slaves are believed to have stayed at the Rankin home, shared, by the way, with John and Jean’s 13 kids. The Rankin’s offspring transported many of the runaways to other stops on the Underground Railroad throughout our state.

The scary part was that after the long and dangerous journey, reaching the relative safety of Ohio was just the first step. “Fugitives” could still be apprehended due to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. To avoid danger entirely, they had to leave the United States.

Chatting with Fran recently brought back memories of our trip and a valuable teaching moment for both of us.

“The day we visited Ripley, it was more than shooting a story for the news,” Robinson says. “We were tracing the steps of slaves searching for freedom.”

“It’s a part of my history I didn’t know. How courageous and passionate each and every person who took that dangerous route must have been. And those who provided assistance are to be recognized. They are an intricate part of history also,” she adds.

We always had fun driving to and from a story. In this case, the long trip home brought reflection and introspection. Our talk got pretty deep, not as a black woman and white man, but rather as two friends sharing stories of our childhood. We had more in common than not.

What a wonderful discussion we had—whichmay not have occurred at all if not for this moving experience.

Fran and yours truly covered many events pertaining to Black History Month over the years. One of my personal favorites is to see what my artist friend, humanitarian, and, as my dad would have said, “all around good egg,” Willis “Bing” Davis creates for his wonderful showcase exhibited in the lobby of the Schuster Center every February.

Bing is a true Dayton original and I’m not sure how he does it, but he manages to top himself every year with the “Visual Voices: Dayton Skyscrapers” exhibit, which is a must-see.

“‘Dayton Skyscrapers’ is a metaphor for African-American high achievers who have made a mark in their field and role models for inner-city youth in the community,” Davis says.

Up-and-coming to mid-career African-American visual artists from all over the Miami Valley research prominent African-American skyscrapers, living or deceased, write an essay about their life and work, and then feature the skyscraper in an original work of art that is displayed in a professional gallery exhibition.

This year had some pretty cool news for the Dayton Skyscrapers: Dayton Public Schools purchased 65 works from the project that have been permanently displayed at the Dayton Boys Preparatory Academy on West Third Street.

“This provides students with an opportunity to learn in the midst of positive role models who have experienced many of the same obstacles that they face daily, yet they became high achievers,” Bing adds.

Now, to make up for my tardiness, some good news: the “Skyscrapers” exhibit continues through March 31 at the Schuster and is free.

After all, Black History is a part of our history, 24/7.

Cheers!

Buch

For more information on the Rankin House, please visit OhioHistory.org. For more information on ‘Visual Voices 2017: Dayton Skyscrapers,’ please visit VictoriaTheatre.com.

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For over 25 years, Jim Bucher has been a regionally known and loved local television icon. “Buch’s” followers describe him as trustworthy, fun, the guy next door, a friend and role model. You can promote your business with Buch and grab your customer’s attention! Reach DCP freelance writer Jim Bucher at JimBucher@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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