Third Annual Ohio Underground Railroad Summit Sandusky, Ohio - Oct 17-18, 1998
By Art Thomas
A report on a great weekend and a wonderful experience, Oct 17-18, was spent in Sandusky, Ohio attending the 3rd Annual Ohio Underground Railroad Summit sponsored by the Friends of Freedom Society (FOFS) and its research branch, the Ohio Underground Railroad Association.
From the Saturday morning breakfast buffet's inspirational invocation by the Rev. W. Benson Stephens, Sr. of Sandusky's Second Baptist Church, to the dedication of the Underground Railroad marker honoring Erie County's involvement in the Underground Railroad movement Sunday afternoon at the lakefront (Lake Erie), looking across to Canada as Mr. Terry Davis sang "Oh, Freedom," the weekend was filled with exciting speakers, beautiful exhibits and a tour of existing "safe-houses". The 150+ attendees from 10 States and Canada were filled with a spirit of togetherness and friendship.
Keynote speaker Dr. Raymond A. Winbush, Director of the Race Relations Institute, Fisk University set the tone with his warning not to forget those who fought for the slaves' freedom that "we must never forget that even though the Underground Railroad is finally getting the attention it deserves in the history of black people in this country......there has been a constant, persistent and ever- present war against the very ideas fought for by the conductors".
Mrs. Barbara Carter, a great great granddaughter of the Rev. Josiah Henson and Curator for Uncle Tom's Cabin Museum located in Dresden, Ontario, Canada gave a stirring presentation on how Henson escaped slavery, returned to the U.S. for his family and then returned to Canada establishing a vocational school, a church and becoming the spiritual leader for that community of former slaves. Quite different from today's concept of Uncle Tom. (Josiah was one of the model's for Harriett Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin").
Mr. Kevin Cottrell, Niagara Falls, New York, gave a video presentation on Eastern routes of the Underground Railroad from Buffalo and Niagara Falls to St. Catherine's and other points in Canada West. These were the same routes used by Harriett Tubman in aiding escaped slaves to their freedom in Canada.
A very, very interesting lecture on the INTEGRATED U.S. Navy and some recollections of outstanding medal-winning efforts by African American seamen during the War of 1812 was given by Mr. Greg Althoff, Chief Ranger and Historian with the Park Service.
Ms. Kim Hess, Educational Technology Trainer, Toledo PUBLIC schools, presented a documentary on 3rd grade students in the Toledo system and their (students) interpretation of the UGRR, abolitionists, runaways. routes and "safe-houses" in the Toledo area. Unbelievable!!!
The Ohio Underground Railroad Association and Ms. Diane Miller, Architectural Historian, for the National Park Service presented research techniques and procedures for identifying, interpreting and documenting sites as former safe-houses and structures used in aiding runaways. To date, Ohio Underground Railroad Association has identified approximately 451 sites in Ohio that were possibly used in the Underground Railroad movement.
The evening awards ceremony found Mr. Don Ross, Springboro, Warren County, Ohio. being named "Conductor of the Year" for his efforts in researching and documenting Underground Railroad site in his region. He has researched, documented and recognized sites in his area with a "walking tour" and an educational program for schools and other organizations depicting the involvement of the people in Southwestern Ohio. Mr. Bennie J. McRae, Jr. was presented an award for "Outstanding Contributions to the Ohio Underground Railroad Movement."
On Sunday morning after the Friends of Freedom Society's annual meeting, a tour of Sandusky's safe-houses was led by Ms. Elaine Lawson culminating with the dedication of the Underground Railroad historic marker on the lakefront.
A wonderful weekend, and we get to do it again next year in Dayton, Ohio (Oct 16-18, 1999), at the Dayton Mall Holiday Inn with a reception at the Paul Laurence Dunbar State Memorial; a tour of an underground railroad excavation site in Greene County; and a tour of "safe-houses" in Springboro, Warren County, Ohio.
Hope to see you in Dayton October 16-18, 1999.