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The former Mt. Zion Baptist Church stands at the corner of N Congress St and Carpenter St in Athens Ohio. Photo illustration and panoramic stitch.

Tour of Uptown Athens to showcase Black history, landmarks

Appalachian Understories will be partnering with Brian Koscho, creator of “Invisible Ground,” a history and storytelling podcast focusing on Southeast Ohio. The two will host a walking tour of Uptown Athens, showcasing Black history and landmarks still standing or remembered with a plaque. 

Madison Donohue, tourism specialist for Appalachian Understories, said the tour starts at HangOverEasy, 18 N. Court St., where the Berry Hotel once stood. After the first stop, the group will travel to the West State Street Cemetery and make their way toward Mount Zion Baptist Church. Koscho, who will be guiding the tour, will be sharing stories of Black entrepreneurship, education and community building at each location.

“The things that have come before us, the people that have come before us, the stories, the struggles and the wonderful things and the terrible things are part of our stories as human beings,” Koscho said. “I think it's something that unifies us.” 

Koscho said the tour could help people take abstract and complicated ideas and find actual stories, people and touchstones in their region.

Black history is a significant part of what makes Athens, Athens. It has created immense connections and opportunities for education. Trevellya Ford-Ahmed, communications and media director for the Mount Zion Baptist Church Preservation Society, said knowing about where one comes from and knowing about their history and ancestry can help them elevate thinking about who they are today.

“I think knowing about where you have come from and the people that have inspired, not just their families but people across the country, that's a very prideful thing to know about,” Ford-Ahmed said.

When thinking of Appalachia, Ford-Ahmed said people are surprised to hear Black people ever lived in the area. However, Athens has always hosted magnificent Black entrepreneurs and attorneys and historical structures, Ford-Ahmed said.

“Athens is a part of that Appalachian understory,” Ford-Ahmed said.

Donohue said this would be Appalachian Understories’ twenty-fifth tour since September. She looks forward to having people attend and build comradery and connection to the history of where they live, hence the name of the tours. 

“An understory tree is a tree that doesn't grow as tall as maybe an oak tree but it stays in the understory canopy of the forest, like the pawpaw tree, so it's an ecological term, because a lot of our tours have to do with the natural history of the region,” Donohue said. “But we also used it as a way to explain the stories that are lesser told of our region, so we wanted to just uplift other stories that maybe aren't as well known.”

The event, “Lifting Up Diversity in Little Cities,” will be hosted on Sunday, Feb. 27, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tickets are $40 and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to Mount Zion to aid in its restoration process.

Koscho said having connections to surroundings changes the way one looks at them, and he, along with Donohue and Ford-Ahmed, encourage people to attend the tour to learn more about the ground they walk on.

“All these folks that we’re going to talk about are important not only to Athens history in Southeast Ohio history, but they're important national figures and they're people whose stories I think really provide a connection to some really important ideas about history, culture and what we do and don't tell sometimes in history,” Koscho said. 


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