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‘Celia’ author to appear at event

On the 155th anniversary of the death of Celia, a slave who was executed at the Callaway County Courthouse in 1855, there will be a commemoration event to draw awareness to racism, sexism and domestic violence problems.

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This will be the sixth annual Celia Commemoration, but the first time Melton McLaurin, author of the book “Celia, A Slave,” will speak at the event. The commemoration will begin at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 21, at the First Christian Church in Fulton. After speaker presentations, there will be a candlelight procession to the courthouse lawn.

McLaurin is a retired history professor at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. He visited Fulton in the early 80s while doing research for his book.

“I’m looking forward to going back,” he said, “and seeing what this event is like.”

“Celia, A Slave” was published in 1991. McLaurin said Celia’s story is a “powerful” one.

“I just find it incredible that Celia has taken on a life of her own since this publication,” he said.

Tom Clapp, member of the Cultural Competence Council, was instrumental in organizing the event and having McLaurin attend it this year. Clapp said he is looking forward to McLaurin’s presentation entitled “Celia and Her Sisters,” which will focus on Celia, slaves like her and what they went through.

Barb Huddleston, curator at the Kingdom of Callaway County Historical Society, said the history behind Celia includes how she was a slave of Robert Newsom, her master who physically and sexually abused her. Huddleston said Celia was then tried for murdering her master with a piece of wood and then burning the body. Three lawyers, including Col. John Jameson, defended her; however, she was hanged for Newsom’s murder.

Heather Phelps, co-chairperson on the Cultural Competence Council, said the purpose of the vigil is to stay in touch with the “history of our community.”

“It’s about standing up together and honoring (Celia’s) life and recognizing we still have a long way to go in dealing with the issues in racism, sexism and domestic violence,” Phelps said.

Several speakers are slated to give comments at the commemoration including Fulton Mayor Charlie Latham, Dr. Thomas Pawley III and Solomon Thurman. Pawley wrote the play “Song of the Middle River” about Celia’s life that was performed in February 2010 at the Fulton Theater for Black History Month. Thurman is an artist from St. Louis who spent time researching Celia in order to paint a portrait of her. The Center Against Rape and Domestic Violence will be giving a presentation during the vigil as well.

Cate Richard, Fulton, also plans to attend the event and share a reading of a fictional play she wrote about Celia. Richard now owns the house that used to belong to Col. Jameson’s son. She said Celia’s story is an important one to remember.

“It’s a fascinating piece of Fulton and Callaway County’s history,” Richard said.

One of the Competence Council’s missions for the commemoration is to promote community awareness of the county’s history and “provide new knowledge and more creative solutions to the continuing problems of racism and sexism.”

“I think (Celia’s case) is important, because the history of it explains why things are the way they are today,” Clapp said.

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