As a child, Gerald McWorter often listened to his father tell stories about growing up on a farm in New Philadelphia, Ill. But it wasn’t until a family reunion in 2005 that he fully understood the significance of his lineage: Everyone he met that day was in some way affected by the story of his great-great-grandfather, a formerly enslaved man from Kentucky who in 1836 became the first Black person in the United States to plat and register a town.
During Frank McWorter’s time, New Philadelphia thrived as a community where Black and White families worked together as equals long before the Civil War was fought to preserve — or destroy — that possibility.
The revelations have emerged through three decades of archaeological digs, advocacy by local community members, oral histories and family artifacts, letters and research. The momentum was enough to convince Gerald McWorter, 78, that he and other relatives “had an obligation” to “become stewards of a story that is bigger than us.”
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