PERRYSBURG — A festival named after a former president with a family history of owning slaves is getting a new name.
Positively Perrysburg Fest will be the new name for the Harrison Rally Day when it returns on Sept. 18.
In the spirit of diversity, inclusion and progress, the Harrison Rally Day festival is coming back as the Positively Perrysburg Fest, according to a press release from the Perrysburg Area Chamber of Commerce.
The one-day event will offer a full day of activities including a parade, artist, crafter and business booths, musical entertainment, food trucks and children’s activities.
“The Perrysburg Area Chamber of Commerce has been coordinating Harrison Rally Day for many years,” said Sandy Latchem, the chamber’s executive director. “We’ve had a year to think about the event and to review its historical relevance. The truth is, given last summer’s unrest over statues honoring people with questionable backgrounds, we decided to delve into the life of William Henry Harrison.”
After some research into Harrison’s life and views, Latchem said she learned that the military officer and the ninth president of the United States argued for the sovereign independence of states, insisting that slavery is a matter for the states alone to consider.
“His father and grandfather were slave owners while he waffled, first joining the abolition movement and then arguing for the right of states to decide,” Latchem said. “We want to have a positive vibe for this annual festival. We don’t want to associate it with a person whom we now know supported slavery.”
Harrison held the office for 31 days, until he died of pneumonia.
Latchem took the idea of changing the name of the festival to the chamber’s board of directors “who enthusiastically embraced the idea, noting that the timing seemed right given Perrysburg’s ongoing commitment to inclusivity and positivity.”
Perrysburg Mayor Tom Mackin said he supports the name change.
“The Perrysburg Area Chamber of Commerce, a private organization, made the decision to change the name of Harrison Rally Day to something they felt was a more appropriate representation of the event. I appreciate the thought behind the chamber’s decision to rename the event to something that is more welcoming and inclusive,” Mackin said. “Now, the Chamber has done some research showing President Harrison owned slaves. Keeping his name in the event would not help achieve the event’s goal, so changing the name makes sense. I support the chamber for doing its homework and making a decision based on facts. I also look forward to celebrating Perrysburg’s heritage this fall.”
The name Positively Perrysburg Fest ties into one of the taglines for the Perrysburg Convention and Visitors Bureau’s marketing campaign. The tagline appears on a large sign positioned on Front Street at the intersection of Louisiana Avenue on the side of the building housing the Vivian Kate Shop. It is a popular location for selfie photos.
Last year’s event was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.