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NEA Big Read in Oberlin Continues with Historical Re-Enactment

September 20, 2022

Office of Communications

Aerial image of Peters Hall
Photo credit: Willam Bradford

Oberlin College continues its National Endowment for the Arts Big Read exploration of Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi with a historical re-enactment on September 21, 2022 at 4:30 p.m. at Oberlin Public Library. The NEA Big Read in Oberlin is presented in partnership with Oberlin College Libraries, the Oberlin Public Library, the Oberlin Heritage Center, the Friends of the Oberlin Public Library, and other community groups with support from the National Endowment for the Arts.

The event will feature Robin Pease, an actress from the Cleveland-based Women in History storytelling organization. Robin will portray the story of Sara Lucy Bagby, an enslaved woman from Virginia who was the last person in the United States forced to return to slavery in the South in 1861 under the Fugitive Slave Act. Bagby escaped via the Underground Railroad and made her way to Cleveland, Ohio, before being captured, arrested, and returned to slavery in Virginia. After Emancipation, Bagby walked to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to leave the South. She ultimately settled in Cleveland, where she died in 1906. She is buried in Woodland Cemetery.

"The historical re-enactment of Sara Lucy Bagby's story connects the larger story of the African Diaspora in the United States, specifically Northeast Ohio,” says Alonso Avila, Information Literacy and Student Success Librarian at Oberlin College. “It invites us into an intergenerational experience and conversation at Oberlin which is one of many sites that make up the Underground Railroad."

An initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest, the NEA Big Read broadens our understanding of our world, our communities, and ourselves through the power of a shared reading experience. Oberlin is one of 62 communities nationwide participating in the 2022-2023 NEA Big Read. From September 2022 through May 2023, our community will celebrate Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi with a full calendar of events including:


Banned Books Trivia, September 18-24 

Oberlin Public Library, 65 S. Main St., Oberlin, OH 44074 

Patrons will have an opportunity to answer a trivia question about a banned or challenged book. Anyone who answers correctly will get to take a book home (while supplies last). Sponsored by the Friends of Oberlin Public Library. Banned Books will be on display through Sept. 24.

Read Aloud, September 21, 4:30 p.m. 

Mary Church Terrell Main Library, Oberlin College, 148 W. College St., Oberlin, OH 44074 

Join us in a public reading of excerpts from your favorite books that have been censored, banned, challenged, or excluded from curricula throughout the years (including our Big Read title, Homegoing).

Sara Lucy Bagby re-enactment, September 27, 4:30 p.m.

Oberlin Public Library, 65 S. Main St., Oberlin, OH 44074

This live, historical re-enactment will portray Sara Lucy Bagby, the last slave to be prosecuted as a runaway after the Fugitive Slave Act. She made it all the way to Cleveland, Ohio, before being sent back into slavery.

Freedom's Friends History Walk, September 29, 6:00 p.m.

First Church in Oberlin, 106 N. Main St., Oberlin, OH 44074

Hear stories about Oberlin’s most famous freedom seekers and people known to have helped them make their way to freedom on this 90-minute neighborhood walking tour. Led by Oberlin Heritage Center. Tour repeats at this location on Saturday, October 8 @ 11:00 a.m.

For more information on this event, please contact Eboni A. Johnson. You also can view a full calendar of events for the NEA Big Read in Oberlin at



Eboni A. Johnson


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