September 9, 2019, Niagara Falls, NY — A national Underground Railroad training event will be held September 11-14, 2019 at Niagara University in Niagara Falls, New York. The program is hosted by The National Park Service; National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom (NTF) Program; the Underground Railroad Consortium of New York State; the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area; the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center; Niagara University; and Association for the Study of African American Life and History.
The theme for this training is Crossings: Bridging the Authentic Underground Railroad Past to the Present. The Underground Railroad can be viewed as a migration story of enslaved people who self-liberated and claimed their freedom. Niagara Falls is an internationally-known destination known for the natural phenomenon of one of the greatest waterfalls in the world. Lesser known, but equally as powerful, are the stories of the Underground Railroad in Niagara Falls and throughout New York State. Some of the most significant crossing points for persons escaping slavery in the South were in New York State along the border with Canada. Efforts to abolish the institution of slavery generated significant pro- and anti-slavery activities that played out in the courts, in the New York State legislature, in the halls of Congress, and on the streets and in the homes in our communities. This significant part of the Empire State’s history, and this history’s relevance with today, impact the historic, cultural, educational, and economic capacity of the state as well as the nation.
Geographical boundaries are not the only crossings of the Underground Railroad. Freedom seekers, in their acts of self-liberation, not only traversed the physical landscape to new destinations, they also conquered the mental landscape of their enslaved status to a life in freedom. Today, we are bridging the authentic history of the Underground Railroad past to the present. The work of descendants, community researchers, historians, and others are elevating the story from the mythical, unknown past to a documented history of a grass roots resistance movement. Through this exploration of our collective heritage, we aim to move society from racism to inclusion and tolerance. All of these aspects of “crossings” will be explored in this training.
The training will take place over two days and include workshops on four different tracks, each a half day in length. Thursday, September 12 the morning sessions will address the history of the Underground Railroad, the latest scholarship and interpretation, transnationalism, and the Underground Railroad in international context in the Atlantic World. Thursday afternoon the presentations will concentrate on protecting the authenticity of the Underground Railroad. Friday morning, September 13 the present and future of community economic development, and actualizing heritage tourism potential and community-driven approaches to provide sustainability to sites and their communities will be explored. Friday afternoon sessions will examine the relevance and legacy of the Underground Railroad, the significance of 19th Century Underground Railroad history to the 21st Century, and making community owners of the Underground Railroad history and using that history to empower communities. Field experiences are arranged for Wednesday, September 11 and Saturday, September 14.
The National Park Service Network to Freedom, through shared leadership with local, state, and federal entities, as well as interested individuals and organizations, promotes programs and partnerships to commemorate and preserve sites, and other resources associated with, the public about the historical significance of the Underground Railroad. Designated by Congress in 2008, the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area stretches from the western boundary of Wheatfield NY to the mouth of the Niagara River on Lake Ontario, including the communities of Niagara Falls, Youngstown, and Lewiston. The Underground Railroad Consortium of New York State is a collaborative venture of vetted UGRR sites and programs from around NYS to preserve and promote New York State’s UGRR sites and programs. The mission of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), which was founded in 1915, is to promote research, preserve, interpret and disseminate information about Black life, history and culture to the global community. For more information on the event: www.asalh.org/underground-railroad-training
About the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center
The Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center is a new, experiential museum that reveals authentic stories of Underground Railroad freedom seekers and abolitionists in Niagara Falls, and aims to inspire visitors to recognize modern injustices that stem from slavery and take action toward an equitable society. Open since May 2018, the permanent exhibition, One More River to Cross, features the rich stories of the Underground Railroad in Niagara Falls, the crucial role played by its location and geography, and the actions of its residents – particularly its African American residents. The Heritage Center’s immersive exhibits and cutting-edge interpretation affirmatively align with the principles of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, whose mission is to connect the past to modern social justice issues – “to turn memory to action.”
In 2012 Nik Wallenda became the first person to cross the Niagara Falls by tightrope in 116 years. He did so after receiving permission from both the Canadian and United States governments, although he was required to carry his passport and present it on entry to the Canadian side of the falls.