About 250 people from throughout the country with a special interest in the Native American Trail of Tears are coming to Decatur this weekend.
The 23rd annual Trail of Tears Conference and Symposium will be today through Sunday. It is an official event of the Alabama Bicentennial and the National Trails System’s 50th anniversary.
“In my opinion, this conference is one of the most important historical and cultural events ever to happen in our city,” said David Breland, city director of historic resources and events.
The Trail of Tears was a series of forced relocations of Native Americans from the Southeastern United States to areas to the west designated as Indian Territory. The forced relocations occurred following the passage of the Indian Removal Act in 1830.
Breland said the conference is important to the city because it’s a chance for participants to learn about Decatur and its involvement in the Trail of Tears.
A new Trail of Tears Walking Trail brochure, funded by a $6,000 grant from Decatur-Morgan Tourism and the Muscle Shoals Heritage Association, will be released today at a 6 p.m. event at Rhodes Ferry Park. Conference participants will then walk the trail.
The conference, based at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel, is coordinated by the Trail of Tears Association, which is the liaison between the National Trails System and the federal tribes removed from their homes and the nine states in which the trail went through.
Breland said Decatur’s involvement in the Trail of Tears was “very unusual because the 2,300 who moved through the city in 1837 and 1838 didn’t have to walk as they did on other routes.” More than 16,500 Native Americans were removed from their homelands between 1830 and 1850.
Three detachments of Cherokees were placed on flat boats in Chattanooga. They then floated down the Tennessee River to Rhodes Ferry Landing in Decatur. They were taken off the boats in Decatur because the river in Muscle Shoals was too low for boats to traverse.
The Native Americans were then moved to trains on the Tuscumbia, Decatur, Courtland railroad, the first railroad west of the Allegany Mountains. They were taken to Tuscumbia and then to Tahlequah, Oklahoma.
Breland said the walking trail that participants will see tonight includes the original landing site, a warehouse where the Cherokees were held and a railroad depot on Market Street Northeast where they boarded the trains.
Shannon Keith, president of the Trail of Tears Association’s Alabama Chapter, helped Breland and John Allison, director of the Morgan County Archives, research Decatur’s history with the Trail of Tears.
Keith’s club is the host chapter of the conference. She said the conference will feature a series of speakers on recent research into the Trail of Tears. Participants will also hear reports of the trail project and network with the tribes.
On Saturday morning, participants will go to Tuscumbia Landing and hear from archaeologists Matthew Gage and Brooke Persons, of the University of Alabama.
At 5 p.m. a dinner and a free concert are planned for Founders Park and the Daikin Amphitheater. Chuck Hoskins Jr., secretary of state of the Cherokee Nation, and Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling will speak.
Singer, songwriter and musician Becky Hobbs will perform. Hobbs co-wrote the hit song, “Angels among us,” with the group Alabama. Keith said Hobbs will perform historic Cherokee songs and then perform her country music.
The dinner and concert will be moved to First Baptist Church if it rains, Keith said.