Ball games and new plaque highlight Emancipation Day

Laurel's oldest festival, Emancipation Day, brought neighbors and friends to Emancipation Community Park for food, music, ball games and just catching up under the shade of the tall oak trees that gave the Grove community its name.

Sponsored each year by members of St. Mark's United Methodist Church, the celebration commemorates the freeing of slaves in the United States. This year, the parade was canceled, but a big crowd turned out to watch ball games between teams from local churches at McCullough Field and enjoy some home-cooked meals served by smiling church members.

During the festival, Mayor Craig Moe and members of the Laurel City Council unveiled a plaque in Emancipation Community Park dedicated to members of the Grove community and highlighting some of the history of the traditionally black Grove community off Eighth Street. The plaque includes photos and text, and stands on a pedestal.

City Council member Fred Smalls said he came up with the idea of a commemorative sign about seven months ago, with the intent of recognizing the historic significance of the Grove.

"Laurel has deep and solid roots in the African American community that's in the Grove," Smalls said.

As Laurel grows and develops, Smalls said, he didn't want the city to lose sight of the historic significance of that area.

As planning begins to expand the Laurel Library, which is adjacent to Emancipation Community Park, knowing the history of the Grove will help others understand the push for not impacting the park when the new library is built, Smalls said.

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