- Associated Press - Thursday, August 28, 2014

NEW ALBANY, Ind. (AP) - The Second Baptist Church in New Albany is more than an old building with an historic clock that stands proudly along Mansion Row. It’s a symbol of hope and freedom for many, just like it was more than 150 years ago when it served as a pathway to the Underground Railroad for runaway slaves.

“Second Baptist Church is very important to this community,” said Kathy Wilkerson, whose family has been attending the church for four generations.

On Friday night, Friends of the Town Clock Church will host a program at the church, 300 E. Main St., commemorating the Civil Rights Act. The program will feature the Floyd Central and New Albany choirs, and Roosevelt Escalante Jr., the assistant director of choral activities at Morehead State University, will also perform with the choirs. The event is free and open to the public.

“Having these two talented choirs perform together on this anniversary event is very exciting. This is a great example of our young people and our community coming together to commemorate this aspect of history,” Alice Miles, chairwoman of the Friends of the Town Clock Church board, said in a news release.

On Aug. 29, 1957, the U.S. Congress passed the Civil Rights Act. This was the first act of Civil Rights legislation since Reconstruction in America. The act helps to protect every U.S. citizen’s right to vote and established a Civil Rights Commission whose duty is to investigate acts of discrimination and injustice.

“It is important that we keep before the public the things we have overcome from the past as we continue to move forward as people committed to justice in our country,” Miles said. “Remembering our past helps us shape our destiny as a great nation.”

Jerry Finn, executive director of the Horseshoe Foundation of Floyd County, is an adviser to the Friends of the Town Clock Church board. He told the News and Tribune (http://bit.ly/VPPz3Z ) the board wants to host more events so the public can visit the church and learn about its history.

The church’s clock was recently repaired and other exterior work was completed. The goal is to raise enough money to place a steeple on top of the clock to restore it to the way it looked when it served as a path on the Underground Railroad. The steeple - which stood tall and drew runaway slaves across the river to its door - was taken down in 1914 following a lightning strike.

“One of the strategic plans of the Friends group is how do we engage the community and make the church more accessible,” Finn said. “There is a lot of pride and history there and that church is an important part of this community.”

Finn said more events in the future may include a speaker series or poetry readings.

Wilkerson said she receives calls from all over the country from people wanting to tour the church and look at the basement, which is where the tunnel to freedom was located. The tunnel came out onto Main Street, and has been sealed by bricks for years. Finn said a few of the bricks may soon be removed so members of the Friends group and church can see what is behind the wall.

“People hear about the church and I go down and open it up for them to visit,” Wilkerson said. “It was a very important part of the Underground Railroad.”

The Friends of the Town Clock Church was established as a charitable partnership with nonprofit status. The role of the Friends group includes the ongoing maintenance, beautification, fundraising, and long-term planning for the historical building.

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Information from: News and Tribune, Jeffersonville, Ind., http://www.newsandtribune.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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