Every so often, someone makes profound and lasting impressions on one’s life and community. Such an individual was John Henry Alexander, my great-grandfather. I never knew him; he died before I was born. Even so, his presence, like a modest but charismatic actor in the wings, always seemed to hover nearby. This feeling was particularly strong when I visited my great-aunts in the Alma Street homestead, sitting in a great curved rocking chair, listening to the chiming of a wall clock, and breathing in the atmosphere of the old family home, while looking at a portrait of the tall, thin man.
With the “8th Annual Ribs and Ragtime” just around the corner and having attended the past seven, I was asked about the historical relevance of this event. I found myself grappling for a cohesive description, but realized the debut of Ribs and Ragtime had been “kept in incubation” for years. In 2001, it was conceived from the historical role of the Detroit River communities of Essex County in the celebration of the founding of Detroit, coined Detroit 300. From this, two companion monuments, along the Detroit River, were erected to symbolize the cooperation of freedom seeking activities between Canada and the US.
As Emancipation Day approaches, it is worthwhile to reflect on the meaning that Emancipation once held for people in Windsor-Essex County and beyond. When people talk about the heyday of “the Greatest Freedom Show on Earth,” what they often describe is the annual parade, the midway carnival, the Miss Sepia Pageant, talent shows and of course the famous barbeque pit.