Meeting in the same Central New York church that hosted the state’s first Anti-Slavery convention in 1835, a group of Underground Railroad-related organizations (museums, churches, and associations) assembled on November 13th to formalize a statewide network to better promote this key part of New York’s heritage.
Twenty different vetted organizations were represented, from Long Island to Jamestown, and Elmira to the northern shores of Lake Champlain. Hosted by Dot Willsey, president of the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum, located in the Peterboro church were the NYS Anti-Slavery Society met 179 years ago, this month’s conference resolved on the need for a statewide consortium to share programs and projects, enhance efforts to publicize resources available around the state, and communicate with educators, public officials and the traveling public.
Back in 2008, the state created a New York Underground Railroad Heritage Trail, but budget cuts and other projects have pulled some state government attention away from the important sites and history.
Before the Civil War, New York State was a critical pathway for freedom-seekers escaping from the slave south. Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman are but the two best known escapees who came to the Empire State and then devoted their lives to freeing others.
In addition to Willsey, organizers of the consortium were Mary Liz Stewart, co-founder of the Underground Railroad History Project of the Capital Region and Judy Wellman, professor emeritus, SUNY Oswego and author of widely praised criteria used to determine the authenticity of Underground Railroad sites.