York honored as part of Lewis and Clark expedition

By Walker Robinson, age 13, Kentucky
Scholastic Student Reporter

October 14—It was a windy, cold, and cloudy day as crowds gathered at a park on the Ohio River for the unveiling of a statue this afternoon in Louisville, Kentucky. They came to see the statue of York, the first African American to travel across the United States. York played an important part in the Lewis and Clark expedition more than 200 years ago.

The ceremony was the second of fifteen national events that will honor the famous expedition.

The shivering crowd stood in awe when members of the committee that commissioned the York sculpture, along with sculptor Ed Hamilton, his family, and Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson slowly pulled a dark blue tarp off of the bronze likeness.

The Mayor was asked about the significance of the Lewis and Clark expedition to Louisville, and specifically, York's significance to the expedition.

"The Lewis and Clark exhibition is the most incredibly adventurous and historical expedition of its kind in America," said Abramson. "The fact that it started here, where the two joined and recruited a team to go forward, makes Louisville a very important link in this chain that goes all the way to the Pacific Ocean."

Abramson also noted that the Native Americans encountered along the route to the Pacific had never seen a person of color before.

Louisville students participated in ceremonies honoring York and the expedition earlier in the day. The Drummers Corporation of Louisville, which consisted of 10- and 11-year-olds, played an original piece. Brian Smiley of New Albany Indiana High School presented a stunning vocal performance as York. This was followed by Barry Lawrence, a voice instructor from Louisville's Bellarmine University, who sang an old spiritual called "Free at Last."

York's Sculptor
Ed Hamilton lives in Louisville and is a nationally acclaimed sculptor who has worked on pieces such as the African American Civil War Memorial in Washington D.C.; the Joe Lewis sculpture in Detroit, Michigan; and the Booker T. Washington sculpture at Hampton University. He was commissioned to do the work by Jim Holmberg, a Louisville historian.

Holmberg said Hamilton was the perfect choice as the artist.

"Due to Ed's wonderful work, there was no other choice," Holberg said. "If we were going to have a sculpture of York, who was a Louisvillian most of his life, we better have a nationally known artist from Louisville to do it.

Hamilton explained to Scholastic News Online what he hoped students would learn from his work on the sculpture.

"I hope they take away the aspect of someone who for three years was free and yet [came] back to be put into bondage," Hamilton said. "I hope they can see the determination in his eyes, the longing for freedom," Hamilton continued. "That's the most important thing, because freedom comes at a price and we pay the price for freedom in all sorts of [ways]. I hope they can see that strength in him, to say that in spite of being a slave I can still [overcome] obstacles."

Artist Ed Hamilton of Louisville, Kentucky, talks about his sculpture of York with Scholastic Student Reporter Walker Robinson. (Photo: Babs Robinson)

Artist Ed Hamilton of Louisville, Kentucky, points out the details of the sculpture of York to Scholastic Student Reporter Walker Robinson. (Photo: Babs Robinson)

Shawn Parker of Floyd County, Indiana, portrays York during the ceremonies. (Photo: Suzanne Freeman)