Before Freetown Village began educating the public about the black experience in Indiana, even its founder was unaware that slavery existed among some Hoosiers.

“There was so much I didn’t know,” said Ophelia Wellington, founder and executive director of the Indianapolis-based living history museum without walls, as organizers describe it.

Wellington, whose background includes being a classroom teacher, will do her part to fill in the blanks on a number of topics for a local audience when she speaks at a free presentation, “African American Life in Indiana,” 6 p.m. Monday at the Bartholomew County Public Library.

The program is just one of several activities planned in February to mark Black History Month in the Columbus area, including the public library selling select titles about black history for half price during the month.

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“You can’t learn everything from presentations,” Wellington said. “You have to be a reader.”

Or even a viewer.

The local African American Fund has organized a free showing Feb. 12 of the documentary “I Am Not Your Negro” about civil rights activist and novelist James Baldwin.

Mary Harmon, a board member for the African American Fund, said the decision to show the film was based on a basic idea.

“I don’t think very many of our younger people are as familiar with James Baldwin as the older generation are,” Harmon said.

Black Lives Matter of Columbus has added a related event Feb. 20 via a newly formed committee, White Voices For Black Lives.

That will be a follow-up discussion about the film and Baldwin, Black Lives Matter organizer Brittany King said.

“We thought that maybe it might be hard for some people to digest all of that film in just one meeting,” King said.

The Rev. Mike Harris said he has theorized that much of black history can be found in older church hymns and spirituals. And much of that style of music will be at the forefront of the 17th annual Gospel Musical at his Faith Hope and Love Church of God In Christ in Elizabethtown, which gets underway at 4 p.m. Feb. 25.

“Even the idea of the slaves singing the spirituals was based on the idea that those songs were something that gave them hope and helped them get through day,” Harris said.

The event regularly has highlighted the vocal gifts of the predominantly black local churches. He expects six or more churches to participate this year with a variety of choirs. In a change from past musicals, Harris also is inviting a couple of mostly white-populated churches to participate to add to the fellowship.

“This also is an opportunity for us to get together and to remember (the past for blacks),” Harris said. “We can’t have some of the negative things repeating over and over in our history.”

Black History Month events

Here is a list of Black History Month events planned for the area.

  • Monday: “African American Life in Indiana” 6 p.m. presentation at Bartholomew County Public Library, 536 Fifth St. in Columbus by Ophelia Wellington, founder and executive director of Freetown Village living history in Indianapolis.
  • Feb. 12: “I Am Not Your Negro,” free screening of 90-minute documentary at YES Cinema, 328 Jackson St., Columbus, 6 p.m., followed by 7:30 p.m. community dialogue and discussion. Panelists include Nathan Rousseau, associate professor of sociology at IUPUC; and Christopher Hunt, doctoral candidate at Garrett- Evangelical Theological Seminary on the campus of Northwestern University. Support provided by African American Fund, Columbus Human Rights Commission, African and African American Affinity Group at Cummins Inc., Bartholomew County Area Chapter of the NAACP, IUPUC, Black Lives Matter of Columbus, Showing Up for Racial Justice, and the African American Pastors Alliance.
  • Feb. 20: “I Am Not Your Negro” Discussion, 6:30 p.m., Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbus, 7850 W. Goeller Blvd.
  • Feb. 23: Lunch and Learn Panel Discussion by Cummins Inc. African and African American Affinity Group, 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Cummins Corporate Office Building, 500 Jackson St. in Columbus. Black History Month’s national theme is “African Americans in Times of War.” Panelists will share experiences and perspectives as minorities in the military.
  • Feb. 25: 17th annual Gospel Musical at the Faith Hope and Love Church of God In Christ, 4 p.m., 11401 State Road 7, Elizabethtown. It normally lasts about 90 minutes and attracts 150 to 200 people. Choirs from six or more area churches. Focus is black history via song, and building fellowship and unity among churches, according to the Rev. Mike Harris, who founded the event.
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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at or 812-379-5672.