- Associated Press - Thursday, May 8, 2014

COLUMBUS, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science students will perform an “8th of May Emancipation Celebration” in a Columbus cemetery Thursday.

The event will celebrate the city’s African American history through song and historic vignettes. It will take place at historic Sandfield Cemetery at 5:30 p.m. and at 6:30 p.m. It is free and open to the public.

The cemetery is believed to be the oldest African-American cemetery in Columbus. It was purchased by the city in 1854 in response to complaints about blacks and whites being buried together in another city cemetery, said Chuck Yarborough, a local historian and MSMS teacher.

Students in Yarborough’s African American History class and the MSMS Voice in Harmony choir will perform the “8th of May Emancipation Celebration.”

The date is significant.

On May 8, 1865, federal troops that had previously been stationed in Alabama arrived in Columbus. Their arrival effectively ended the Civil War in the area and emancipated slaves once and for all, Yarborough said.

The event Thursday will honor the memory of and commemorate the contributions of late-19th and early-20th century local black leaders.

Yarborough said the MSMS choir has been preparing for the event since February.

The history students have been researching local leaders buried in the cemetery for almost two months.

The leaders who will be portrayed include:

- The Rev. Jesse F. Boulden, who served in the state House of Representatives.

- Robert Gleed Sr., a former slave who was elected as Lowndes County’s representative in the state Senate.

- Richard Denthrift Littlejohn, who founded and published an African American newspaper in Columbus in 1887 until the early 1900s.

- Jack Rabb, a former slave who became a prosperous black businessman in the late 1800s.

- William Isaac Mitchell, who became principal of Union Academy, the first public school for black children established in Columbus.

- J.M. Coleman, a former farm laborer who became a cashier at the Penny Savings Bank in the early 1900s and the namesake of Coleman Elementary School.

About 24 students from MSMS will perform.

Sandfield Cemetery and Union Cemetery are to two largest African American cemeteries in Columbus and are regularly included on historical tours. Local officials believe both would be good candidates for the National Register of Historic Places because of the community leaders buried in both.

Neither cemetery has been abandoned. A trust group mows the grass at Union Cemetery and the city mows Sandfield Cemetery.

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Information from: The Commercial Dispatch, https://www.cdispatch.com

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