Traveling exhibit called ‘Oberlin Sanctuary Project’ coming to Cleveland for Black History Month

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OBERLIN, Ohio (WJW) — A window to the past is opening at the Langston-Hughes Cleveland Public Library Branch this Black History Month.

The Oberlin Sanctuary Project, a new traveling exhibit opens Saturday and documents the history of Oberlin’s efforts to provide sanctuary across time.

“The theme occurs again and again, helping others providing safe haven, providing spaces and so we wanted to bring together these stories with that theme in mind,” said Ken Grossi, the Oberlin College Archivist.

Stories of people like Lucy Stanton, who according to the Oberlin archives, was a free-born woman from Cleveland who graduated from the Oberlin Ladies’ Department in 1850.

The project showcases the theme of sanctuary, including Oberlin and the Vietnam War and the college during Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s commencement speech in 1987 where he spoke of the impact of apartheid. 

The sanctuary project also documents how the people of Oberlin helped escaped slaves in an event called “the confidence game.”

“Residents would play a decoy game with slave catchers,” said Grossi. “They would help them find runaway slaves but actually taking them to a place where the slaves were not, decoying them so the runaway slaves would be escaping in the opposite direction.”

The traveling exhibit, is the result of a 10,000 dollar grant from the Council of Independent Colleges last year. The funds allowed for the expansion of the project’s digital exhibit, allowed for public programming and the creation a traveling exhibit at the Langston Hughes library branch.

“Langston Hughes was the poet laureate of his time,” said library branch manager William Bradford.

Bradford showcased a painting of Hughes childhood home, still standing in Cleveland on E. 86th Street and Cedar.

“Langston Hughes maternal grandmother Mary Patterson was one of the first African-American women to graduate from Oberlin College,” said Bradford.

The library will host a free opening ceremony Saturday at 2 p.m. with a meet and greet of the people responsible for the exhibit, food and live music. The Oberlin Sanctuary Project will be on display for several weeks at the library.

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