The Center for AntiSlavery Studies




"THE PLACE I CALL HOME: NORTHEAST PENNSYLVANIA'S UNDERGROUND RAILROAD HISTORY"

THE PROJECT
THE NEED

THE STORY

This multi-county, local history project will research, interpret and tell the story of Northeast Pennsylvania's role in the Underground Railroad and Abolition movements. The project's educational partner is Keystone College. As Host Site for the project, Keystone has contributed significant in-kind services.

The project was awarded funding for initial Consultation by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Pennsylvania Humanities Council. The National Endowment for the Humanities has twice selected "The Place I Call Home" for inclusion in their prestigious We the People Initiative first during the Consultation Phase, and again during the Research and Planning Phase.

The Implementation Phase has been funded by the Lackawanna Heritage Valley Authority , Pennsylvania Humanities Council, and the PA Dept. of Cultural & Heritage Tourism via their statewide Underground Railroad Heritage initiative, Quest for Freedom

The project was honored to receive national distinction as one of "America's Historic Places" by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The Implementation Phase has so far been funded by the Lackawanna Heritage Valley Authority. The Pennsylvania Humanities Council, and the PA DCED’s Office of Cultural & Heritage Tourism via their statewide initiative, Quest for Freedom.

THE PROJECT

Part of CASS’ mission is to make the history of the Abolition and Underground Railroad activities in this area accessible to the general public. They have initiated interpretive programs, provided speakers, and produced publicity materials to accomplish this goal, but so far these events have only reached a small portion of the local audience.

To bring this history to local, regional, and national audiences, CASS is producing a multi-media project entitled, The Place I Call Home: Northeastern Pennsylvania’s Underground Railroad History. When complete, this project will produce:

  • • Public Programs
    • Traveling Exhibits
    • Publications
    • A Web Site
    • Companion Materials

By using a variety of static, active, and interactive elements to present the story, audience members will be able to absorb the information cognitively, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. The subject will be presented honestly, accurately, and with an approach that encourages personal reflection, analysis and continuing conversation.

THE NEED

Throughout the United States there is growing interest in the Underground Railroad (UGRR) and Abolition movements and their critical place in our nation’s history. Historically and culturally, these movements had an enormous affect on our collective national consciousness, from their role as the catalyst for the civil rights movement to present day discussions of human rights. The large numbers of people drawn to conferences, seminars, lectures, exhibits, books, documentaries, and discussions devoted to the UGRR movement demonstrate America’s interest.

A recent Time Magazine article noted the creation of 20 new museums devoted to African-American history. One of the largest, the newly opened Freedom Center in Ohio, focuses on the UGRR and expects to attract 250,000 visitors per year. Former Virginia governor, Doug Wilder, the creator of the US National Slavery Museum due to open in 2007 in Virginia, was quoted by Time as saying, ”We need to develop a conscious awareness of how far we’ve come and who we are.”

In our area, recent UGRR programs have drawn great response and area residents show a strong interest in the topic.

This project is important on both an intrinsic level, to preserve history for history’s sake, and on an economic level, to provide much needed heritage tourism dollars to our region. We believe that it will be a catalyst for a more comprehensive understanding of our region’s cultural heritage. Northeastern Pennsylvania has become known for its amazing stories of industrial heritage, and the region is now poised to look to the topic of assimilation and to tell the even more amazing stories of our people. By having a more accurate, more complete understanding our local history, we can better understand our own identity, both as individuals and as a region.

THE STORY

Since 1996, the Center for Anti-Slavery Studies (CASS) has researched, documented, and preserved the history of the Abolition and Underground Railroad activities in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Our research has found that Northeastern Pennsylvania’s story is uncommon within the larger scope of the Underground Railroad.

Many escaping slaves who passed through this area did not simply stop here for a night hidden in a barn or a back room. Local Abolitionists and free black individuals actively encouraged and supported slaves’ efforts to escape, and were willing to take enormous personal risks to prove it. They offered them jobs, money, land, and gave them an opportunity to establish themselves. Many fugitive slaves and free blacks successfully integrated into local communities that accepted them and actively supported their freedom.

This is a story of how both black and white people lived and worked together in this region; it is about their individual and common struggles, their triumphs, and their attempts to live ordinary lives in an extraordinary time. For many, Northeastern Pennsylvania was not just a stop on the way to freedom in Canada, but a place they came to call home.


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