Put on your party hats and church shoes, because Oxford has turned 175 years old this year.
A convocation for the city’s birthday will be held at The Old Church on Dec. 6 at 11 a.m., where all the key players — from Mayor Jerry Roseberry to Steve Bowen, the Dean of Oxford College of Emory University — will speak in honor of the city and spotlight the leaders and organizations who’ve helped Oxford thrive.
“The principal speaker will be Reverend Dr Herchel Sheets,” Mayor Jerry Roseberry said. “He will address a very important sermon by Atticus Haygood called, ‘The New South.’ It was a sermon about the South needing to look forward to the future, make some changes, and just have a totally different outlook than what had been dominant because of the Civil War ... there were financial struggles at that time and even Emory College was having hard times.”
The mayor also believes that Haygood, a former president of Emory College, was a pivotal figure who helped bring a new perspective and financial prosperity to Oxford after word of his sermon spread.
“Many historians believe that if it had not been for him ... we would’ve been in even more dire straits,” Roseberry said.
Louise Eady, the chairman of the Storybook Committee for the convocation, believes that Haygood’s sermon was beautiful, but he was preaching to a choir that didn’t completely share his sentiment. “It was a little ahead of it’s time,” she said. “It was after reconstruction, at a time when people weren’t feeling very kindly toward the north ... and I think it took time before it was recognized as being as important as it was.”
Although Dr. Sheets will be addressing Haygood’s sermon, and the convocation takes place in a church built two years after Oxford was founded in 1839, Mayor Roseberry assured the event will not be a religious service, but merely a celebration of the past and present. Notably, the father of Oxford, or the catalyst of the city, the Methodist church, will be in attendance — at least in spirit and representation.
“We wanted to recognize our Methodist heritage,” said Dr. Hoyt Oliver, a retired professor of religion from Oxford College and co-chair of the subcommittee for the convocation. “And particularly significant events in Emory’s history at Oxford ... President Haygood, later Bishop Haygood, gave his Thanksgiving Sermon of 1880, so we wanted him because of his historic work. And I think his presidency at Emory was a turning point for the city in the 1880s.”
In addition to the oral enrichment provided, a free book comprised of memoirs, stories and a guide to historic sites of Oxford’s past will be given to all attendees. Also as a gift, a free 2015 calendar containing photos taken by Oxford residents will also be handed out with the book upon exiting the convocation. The book that Eady and four separate committees helped compile, and later edited by Oxford resident Lisa Dorward, will delve into the lives and stories of the city’s historic public figures.
“Part of the book spotlights individuals,” Eady said. “But it talks about what led up to the founding of the city from 1836 and on ... and the Methodist Church built the college and the city — and Oxford itself, is a Methodist Church shrine.”
With anniversaries in mind, there will also be a time capsule created and placed in a locked box inside City Hall, with a convocation program placed inside during the event as the final addition. And the capsule will be open is 25 years.
Quoting part of Haygood’s speech and Oxford’s town motto, City Manager Bob Schwartz said, “’What is good - and there is much that is good - let us stand by, and make it better if we can,’” — hoping those words will continue to resonate with future generations — at least until the next quarter century when the capsule is opened.
For people who know little of Oxford’s past, or for residents who’ve newly moved into the city, the convocation and the booklet of Oxford’s history can serve as an educational tool. Or it can just be a fun outlet for history buffs Schwartz said.
“I don’t know half the people they’re talking about,” said Schwartz, who became Oxford’s city manager two years ago. “But, they have some interesting stories.”
And although Eady is also not an Oxford native, moving to the city in 1963, her husband, Virgil, is — and a sixth generation at that, with all six generations of the Eady family graduating from Oxford College. And with their son, David, who is also an Oxford city council member, she has further grown roots in the Oxford soil.
And native or not, she wants to continue to make the city of Oxford a better place for her family, and continue to call it home for years to come.
“I adopted the town,” Eady said. “And the town adopted me.”