Art Exhibit Planned to Commemorate Slave Story

Callaway County will soon be observing the 150th anniversary of something residents might rather forget—the hanging of a young slave girl accused of murdering her abusive master.


A number of activities are in the planning stages for the Dec. 21 event, and a community art exhibit has now been added.


The true story of “Celia, A Slave” was chronicled in a book written in 1993 by acclaimed author Melton A. McLaurin. An organization called the Cultural Competence Council is planning a commemoration of Celia’s execution.


Part of the group’s mission for the memorial is “To view the past, not as a condemnation of our ancestors, but as a stepping stone toward the development of contemporary solutions to the continuing problems of injustice, oppression and deprivation of human dignity.”


“It’s important to bring things to light and talk about them,” Jane Mudd, William Woods University instructor of art, said.


In 1850, 14-year-old Celia became the property of a prosperous and respected Callaway County farmer. For the next five years, she was cruelly and repeatedly molested by her master—and bore him two children in the process.


But in 1855, driven to the limits of her endurance, Celia fought back. And at the age of 18, the desperate and frightened young black woman found herself on trial for her master’s murder—the defendant in a landmark courtroom battle that threatened to undermine the very foundations of the South’s most cherished institution.


Among the commemoration activities planned is an art exhibit co-sponsored by William Woods University and Court Street Coffee. Mudd and her art colleague Terry Martin have been working with their students to create artwork based on Celia’s story.


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They had models come in for the classes to sketch or paint, and one class took a fieldtrip to the old farm “to get a feel for the place,” Mudd said.


Now they’re seeking artwork from the community to add to the display and have issued a “call for artists.”


According to Mudd, the subject can be broadly based, such as various interpretations of slavery or equal rights in general. Artwork can be either two- or three-dimensional, but must be original in design and ready to hang. Artwork should be brought to Court Street Coffee by noon Dec. 9.


“We’re really hoping to get the community involved,” Mudd said.


For information, call her at (573) 642-3944.

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Artwork by faculty member Jane Mudd