'First Steps to Freedom'

Jeffrey Powell signs his autograph for Corinth native Frieda Miller at the Saturday afternoon program.

Staff photo by Gabby Boyd

It was a black history program to remember as the story of the Corinth Contraband Camp was told Saturday for the first time through digital media.

"This is by far one of the greatest programs I've ever attended. It sheds so much light on the city of Corinth and educates people about the town's previous 6,000 residents," said Corinth Mayor Tommy Irwin, referring to the African-American men, women and children who once lived at the former camp during the Civil War.

The new augmented reality app titled "Corinth Contraband Camp" brought the local camp's six bronze statues to life with visual scenes and historical photographs by telling stories of what life was like for the area's former inhabitants who lived there during the Civil War era. The camp is where freed slaves sought refuge with the Union Army. The camp included a huge area from today's National Park Service site off North Parkway all the way to the present day Corinth High School campus off Harper Road.

"This is so much bigger than I ever expected. My idea ended up growing into a huge production," said Jeffrey Powell, a Tishomingo native who is the mastermind behind the app.

Powell recalls touring the camp with a park ranger one day when he decided to create the historical masterpiece that would tell a particular story in the Crossroads area.

"I thought this would be a great project because I felt this story needed to be told. Very few people know about the history here and how Corinth played a valuable role in the life of the freedman," said Powell, a instructional technology specialist at Northeast Mississippi Community College.

Over 700 people gathered at the Corinth Coliseum on Leap Day to witness the launching of the new app. There, they watched videos of what the camp's residents did on a day to day basis.

"What amazes me is how they were able to turn the camp into a small city. Everyone had a job and were able to sustain themselves along with their families," said Irwin. "It's a compliment to Corinth because the camp was viewed as one of the top of the line contraband camps during that time."

Members of the Boys and Girls Club of Booneville/Prentiss County starred in the visual scenes of the new app. Several of them were present at the program, including Dale Leonard, who serves as the club's youth director.

"We had no clue what we were getting ourselves into until we saw the historical clothing. Once we found out we were going to be in a film, we were all so excited," said Leonard, who played four roles which included a farmer, soldier, preacher and patient.

Leonard believes the app is going to add more historical attributes to Alcorn County.

"It's a way to interact with the world through the app. They will see and hear the trials and tribulations of what the African American people went through and what life was like for them at the camp," said Leonard, an alderman for the town of Rienzi. The bronze statues at the camp include a soldier, a woman doing laundry, a man tending to crops, a man handing out books and a woman reading to a young girl.

A member of the Mississippi Humanities Council came from Jackson to attend the program. They also gave a grant to fund the project.

"I love how he took the statues and made them come alive. The video made the story even more compelling and educational for young people. It puts you in the place of the who was there during that time," said Stuart Rockoff, executive director for MHC.

The program featured many speakers such as Dr. Alisea McLeod, Chair of Humanities at Rust College and National Park Ranger Tom Parson with the Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center. Carla Falkner and Jeffrey Powell of Northeast Mississippi Community College both spoke to the crowd about the project. Corinth Mayor Irwin welcomed the guests. Student choirs from Corinth High School, Alcorn Central High School and Northeast Mississippi Community College performed. Several people performed instrumental solos as well.

Overall, the event was a success, said the mayor.

"Corinth is known for it's Civil War history and railroads, but the people need to know how this Contraband Camp played a major role in the our town's history. This app is a way to educate ourselves and many others," said Irwin.

Program organizers had hoped the event would include a trip to the Contraband Camp, but many trees downed by Tropical Storm Olga in October have yet to be cleared from the historical site.

(Those interested in learning more about the Corinth Contraband Camp, located at 800 N. Parkway in Corinth, can call 662-287-9273.)

Staff Writer

Gabby Boyd is a native of Iuka and a graduate of the University of Souther Mississippi where she majored in broadcast journalism. She is a staff writer for the Daily Corinthian and an published fantasy fiction author.

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