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Hilliard Celebrates Black History Month

Trips to a special park and museum exhibits are great ways to learn about the important role Black residents have played in Hilliard’s history.

Merchant Park celebrates the role of the Merchant family, whose members are believed to be the first known Black family to own land and settle in what is now Hilliard.

The park, at 5462 Center St. in Downtown Hilliard, was dedicated in October 2021 to honor the Merchant family legacy. The 1850 U.S. Census listed Yammer and Tabitha Merchant, with their seven children, as a Black family living in Norwich Township. They arrived from Virginia as part of a movement of previously freed slaves and settled in what is present-day Brookfield Village.

Evonne Merchant Grant is one of the descendants of the Merchant family living in Central Ohio. In 2008, she started researching her family history and was instrumental in the work done for the Merchant Park dedication.

Evonne Merchant Grant speaks to crowd at the Merchant Park dedication ceremony in Downtown Hilliard in October 2021.
Evonne Merchant Grant addresses the crowd at the Merchant Park dedication ceremony in Downtown Hilliard in October 2021.

“Knowing who you are and where you came from is a beautiful thing,” Merchant Grant said. “It’s so important to seek out your family history while you still can with the older generation, because so often it is lost.”

Merchant Grant worked alongside City Attorney Dawn Steele to piece together these key moments of Black history in Hilliard. Steele is also a docent at the Hilliard Historical Society and put together a Black history exhibit at the museum in Weaver Park.

“We did a lot of research on the Merchants in particular, but we also uncovered a story about Hilliard as a whole,” Steele said. “Hilliard opened its first integrated school in 1878, and they’ve remained that way ever since. I think that’s a great testament to our community, and the Merchants were a big part of that.”

The museum exhibit features displays and artifacts on Hilliard’s early Black history through the 19th and 20th century. There are also items and kid-friendly exhibits that depict an old-fashioned family reunion and the role of each family member in a village. Steele said the research was done in phases, starting with census data, newspapers, and other information found in the library at the Hilliard Historical Society.

“Our goal was to make the exhibits informative and interactive, to really spark conversations for people,” Steele said. “The Merchants have been great to work with and, thanks to the continued efforts of Evonne and others, we’re learning more all the time.”

Merchant Grant said she visits the serene Merchant Park in Downtown Hilliard several times a year and always comes away with a sense of gratitude.

“I’m just so grateful for all the City of Hilliard has done to honor our family,” she said. “We’ve learned so much about not only our ancestors but about ourselves. Just because we have different skin colors, that doesn’t matter, we’re all one big happy family as part of the human race.”

The Merchant family gathers for the City of Hilliard's Merchant Park dedication ceremony in October 2021.
The Merchant family gathers to celebrate the dedication of Hilliard’s Merchant Park in October 2021.

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