The National Park Service has given a top award to a University of Lynchburg graduate who organized a popular program to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War.
Ernie Price ’94 MEd received the Freeman Tilden Award, which recognizes outstanding NPS employees who make outstanding contributions to the public through historical interpretation, on November 12. The award recognized his role in organizing Footsteps to Freedom, a program during the Civil War sesquicentennial events at Appomattox Court House National Historic Park in April.
“It’s an overwhelming honor,” he said. “It’s still sinking in. I’m very proud to receive the award, but as you probably can guess, a program like this involves a lot of people. By its very nature, it’s a community program that involved people throughout the Appomattox community and beyond.”
“Footsteps to Freedom” provided a living history interpretation honoring the only civilian casualty from the battle at Appomattox Court House, an enslaved woman named Hannah Reynolds. She was shot when an artillery shell entered her home. Thanks to a Union surgeon, she survived long enough to die as an emancipated woman. “The story of Hannah Reynolds’ death was preserved in the park’s history long before I got here,” said Ernie, who serves as the park’s chief of education and visitor services. While planning events to coincide with the sesquicentennial commemoration, he started investigating the idea of having actors portray a funeral for Hannah Reynolds.
The park partnered with the Carver-Price Legacy Museum, which is located in a former segregated school in Appomattox, to plan the event. The event opened with music by a community choir and an introduction by Ernie. It continued with the performance of the funeral, in which re-enactors portrayed the Rev. Fleming Johnson and Abram Reynolds. Music was provided by Soulsters from the Hill, a group from Diamond Hill Baptist Church.
The event culminated with the lighting of 4,600 luminaries in the park — one for each enslaved person who lived in Appomattox at the time that Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant.
Ernie started working at Appomattox Court House National Historic Park when he was an undergraduate. He earned his master’s degree in education LC while waiting for full-time job opportunities with NPS. After filling roles in other national parks, he finally got his dream job back at the Appomattox historic site.
“The American Civil War and how it ended will always be relevant to the American condition,” Ernie said. “This history never becomes stale.”
Photos courtesy of the National Park Service.