GRAFTON – Songs of hope will be part of a celebration this weekend marking the accomplishments of a Vermont family who escaped slavery.
On Saturday morning, several organizations will celebrate the opening of Camp Birchdale, the last structure standing on Alec and Sally Turner’s homestead. Participants are invited to meet at Grafton Trails & Outdoor Center, 783 Townshend Road, Saturday at 8:45 am Transportation will be provided to Birchdale Camp by Thomas Transportation, as no personal vehicles are permitted to board Turner. Hill. Refreshments will be available at the outdoor center hut.
During the Civil War, Alec Turner escaped slavery in Virginia and settled in Grafton, where he became a hill farmer. His daughter Daisy Turner, born in 1883, became a storyteller and poet and named the family property “Journey’s End”.
“This is my first time walking on freed slave soil,” said Brattleboro singer Samirah Evans, who will sing songs including “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone. “I am proud of what they have been able to accomplish.
Journey’s End sits at the head of the Vermont African American Heritage Trail, which consists of more than a dozen sites across Vermont.
Trail founder Curtiss Reed Jr., who is executive director of the Vermont Partnership for Fairness & Diversity, called the Turners “the quintessential hill farmer here in southern Vermont,” and said the opening of the Birchdale Camp deepened the understanding of their history.
“They reinvented what was possible for them,” Reed said. “I think Alec was a visionary. I think his daughter Daisy Turner put this into prose in a way that made us understand what Vermont means to people, regardless of race – that this is a place where you come as you are and then you become part of the community.
The Windham Foundation organized the celebration in collaboration with the Turner Hill Interpretative Center, the Grafton Historical Society, the Preservation Trust of Vermont, and the Vermont Partnership for Fairness & Diversity.
Speakers will include Reed, Elizabeth Bankowski of the Windham Foundation, author of “Daisy Turner’s Kin” Jane Beck, Ben Doyle and Eric Gilbertson of the Preservation Trust of Vermont and Patrick Cooperman and Patsy Ellis of the Turner Hill Interpretative Center.
Evans, accompanied by pianist Franz Robert, will perform at Birchdale Camp. Upon the return of the camp participants, François Clemmons will sing songs inspired by Alec Turner.
Reed called Evans a “brilliant singer” whose vocals will bring depth to the time of the celebration.
“If you’ve been to Journey’s End before, if you’ve been to Birchdale Camp before, you can see there is beautiful scenery once you get to the top of the mountain,” Reed said. “It will be celebrated in song. I think Samirah was the right person to choose because of her understanding of Vermont, her understanding of what it means to celebrate, what it means to focus on the future.
Evans said she admired the “courage, strength and tenacity” displayed by the Turner family.
“The fact that they decided to take this trip to be free,” she said. “It sets an example for so many who have followed them. There might have been people before them, but to come to the whitest state in the country at the time and be able to thrive, that inspires me. “
For more information and to RSVP visit the Turner Hill Interpretative Center website, turnerhillgrafton.org.