Perrysburg changes festival name, severing ties with former president's slavery beliefs
Jun. 2—A Perrysburg fall festival known for years as Harrison Rally Day has been renamed to distance itself from the slavery beliefs of its namesake, organizers announced Tuesday.
Harrison Rally Day was created in the 1990s in recognition of one of northern Wood County's most famous one-time residents, former President William Henry Harrison, whose connection to Perrysburg comes from his involvement in the Battle of Fallen Timbers on August 20, 1794 and his involvement in the War of 1812.
Upon doing a deeper dive into his past, though, the Perrysburg chamber said it learned that Mr. Harrison, a member of the Whig Party, promoted the sovereign independence of states, and insisted "that slavery is a matter for the states alone to consider."
"His father and grandfather were slave owners while he waffled, first joining the abolition movement and then arguing for the right of states to decide," Sandy Latchem, Perrysburg Area Chamber of Commerce executive director, said in a statement. "We want to have a positive vibe for this annual festival. We don't want to associate it with a person whom we now know supported slavery."
Ms. Latchem took the idea for the name change to the chamber's board of directors, which approved it.
In the chamber's statement, she said she and other organizers "had a year to think about the event and to review its historical relevance."
"The truth is, given last summer's unrest over statues honoring people with questionable backgrounds, we decided to delve into the life of William Henry Harrison," she added.
The date of this year's Positively Perrysburg Fest is Sept. 18. The festival was not held last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
"As a community, we want to be as welcoming as possible," Perrysburg Mayor Tom Mackin said. "Keeping his name in the event would not help achieve the event's goal, so changing the name makes sense."
He elaborated on that in an email Tuesday night, saying the purpose of the festival has been "to invite and encourage people to come visit and enjoy Perrysburg" all along.
"For that goal to be achieved, we need to keep reducing barriers to being a community that encourages diversity and affirm why Perrysburg is a great place to live," Mr. Mackin wrote. "I appreciate the thought and consideration put into this change, and I support it."
According to whitehousehistory.org, Mr. Harrison was born Feb. 9, 1773 to one of Virginia's wealthiest slave-owning families and owned slaves himself, but "offered contradictory views on slavery."
Mr. Harrison died 20 years before the Civil War began, and 22 years before then-President Abraham Lincoln freed slaves with his Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863.
Mr. Harrison was promoted to lieutenant by none other than Major General "Mad Anthony" Wayne, serving as his aide-de-camp at the Fallen Timbers battle, and he was made commander of fresh recruits by then-President James Madison. He ultimately achieved the rank of brigadier general.
Mr. Harrison was the military officer who came up with the idea for building the fortress along the Maumee River known as Fort Meigs, and named it in honor of Return J. Meigs, Jr., who served as Ohio's fourth governor from Dec. 8, 1810 to March 24, 1814.
He served in both chambers of Congress, as well as the Ohio Senate. For 12 years, starting in 1801, he served as governor of the Indiana Territory, according to whitehouse.gov.
Mr. Harrison, America's ninth president, is perhaps best known, though, as the president with the shortest stint in the White House. He died of septic shock from enteric fever in 1841 after only 31 days in office. He also was the country's first president to die in office.
Ms. Latchem was not available for additional comment Tuesday night.
First Published June 1, 2021, 7:01pm