One More River to Cross at Underground Railroad Heritage Area

 

When fleeing slaves from the southern U.S. reached Niagara Falls, they knew they had one more river to cross. But what a river it was with its roiling cataract. The new Underground Railroad Heritage Area in Niagara Falls, NY. chronicles some of the notable African-Americans who escaped across the river and helped others to make their way to freedom.

Recently I had the privilege of touring the new museum. For those unfamiliar with the term, “Underground Railroad” refers to a series of places where escaping slaves could receive shelter and assistance after leaving the South. Following the North Star, they headed for the northern U.S., where slavery was outlawed.

However, after the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, bounty hunters could recapture slaves in the north and return them to bondage. For this reason, it was far better for these fugitives to go all the way to Canada. When they reached Niagara Falls, they had one more river to cross.

Anthony Involvement in the Underground Railraoad

The Anthony family approved of this civil disobedience of helping slaves escape. They hosted many antislavery dinners at their farm home in Rochester, and three of their children (Susan, D.R., and Merritt) campaigned against slavery with speeches, petition campaigns, and physical warfare. Among the family’s closest friends were Undergound Railroad “conductors” (owners of safe houses) Amy and Isaac Post and Frederick Douglass.

Active or Passive Escapees?

Sometimes conductors used the code word “parcel” for a fugitive needing assistance. This term erroneously suggests that freedom seekers were passive goods carried away from slavery by other (usually white) people’s initiatives. The term gives little credit to the courage and intelligence exhibited by fleeing slaves themselves. (I strove for the correct balance in The Truth About Daniel, when I wrote about the escape of Randall Burton on Martha’s Vineyard.)

The Underground Railroad Heritage Area tips the racial balance by showing black abolitionists at work, united in the effort to help freedom seekers cross their last barrier  to freedom, the Niagara River.. A daring feat, to say the least. More next time.

 

 

All for Suffrage, Part 1

Susan B. Anthony’s family members were all for suffrage, each in his or her own way. Some supported voting rights by actually casting ballots, while others supported campaigns for African-Americans and women to vote. She had Continue reading

Agitators Prevailed

The story of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass packed a full house tonight, the opening of “The Agitators.” Rochester’s famous reformers really showed their mettle at this fine play at GEVA Theater. Actors Madeleine Lambert and Cedric Mays delivered the pair’s famous arguments with conviction and humor against a massive timeline that resembled the double arches of the Frederick Douglass-Susan B. Anthony Bridge in Rochester.

“Agitation is the spark of all change”

This is one of my favorite quotes from the play, and served as the theme to portray the lifelong friendship between these reformers. Especially moving were the scenes where the pair toured Frederick’s burned-out home; where they fought over the enfranchisement of black men before women; and where he begged Susan not to hold a women’s rights convention in a southern state where black women were not welcome.

Personally, I enjoyed the proslavery mob scene and the final vignette about Ida Wells, which both figured prominently in my book Susan B. Anthony And Justice For All.

Want to read more about these two revolutionaries? Get your own copy of this easy read that portrays Susan’s entire life. Great for students, too!

When Free Speech isn’t Free

It almost cost Frederick Douglass his home to publish his newspaper in the Talman Building in Rochester, pictured here; and Harriet Jacobs, who operated a reading room with her brother one floor up, couldn’t make her rent, either. Continue reading

A Time of Confluence

In 1847 (two years after the Anthonys moved to Rochester) Frederick Douglass settled nearby and began publishing his abolitionist paper The North Star (later called Frederick Douglass’ Paper).

Although he had established his writing and speaking career in New Bedford (near Boston), his rising fame threatened or inspired jealousy in some of the luminaries of the movement—most notably William Lloyd Garrison—so he set out in search of a new home. Continue reading

Book Excerpt

While we’re awaiting shipment of the first copies of The Truth About Daniel, here’s an excerpt from chapter 4 where Daniel and his sister Susan B. Anthony discuss his difficulties with courtship:

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Susan B. Anthony at Mt. Hope Cemetery

SBA graveThousands experienced the beauty and peace of Mt. Hope Cemetery yesterday when they gathered at the grave of Susan B. Anthony in a fitting tribute to one of America’s greatest women. Rochester officials estimate the crowd at 10,000 visitors. Continue reading

Tracking Women’s Rights

world of inquiry 800Recently I had the pleasure of presenting Susan B. Anthony in costume at the World of Inquiry School in the Rochester City School District. Approximately 100 seventh-graders, in groups of 20, cycled through several costumed speakers who introduced students to a variety of 19th century issues, including temperance, antislavery, physical abuse, unequal access to education, child labor, and women’s rights.

We like to think ourselves well-advanced beyond Americans of the 1900s, but are we, really? We still have problems with alcoholism, racism, abuse, and women’s rights. And today, children as young as eight years being trafficked in the sex trade, a form of child labor that is even more appalling than the factory work of 19th century youngsters .

Some of the World of Inquiry classes were all girls, others all boys. Presenting Miss Anthony’s impassioned plea for women’s rights to seventh-grade boys presented a unique opportunity. Why should young males, at the beginning of their adult years, voluntarily rescind some of their natural rights to girls? “Miss Anthony” drew upon her Quaker upbringing to challenge those teenagers to respect themselves and accord the same respect to the females in their lives. She asked them to consider what happens to women who are dependent on men when the men must leave their women, in situations such as military service or death. Would a respectful man want to put a woman he loves at risk for a life of poor education and poor wages just so he can act superior to her when he is present?

We costumed presenters kicked off a curriculum unit entitled “Fighting for Change.” Following our appearances, the teachers have helped students work through some of the nuances of these social problems and take them from the common teenage refrain of “It’s not fair” to “What am I going to do about it?” Sounds to me like a worthy goal.

In the above photo from that event are pictured David Anderson as Frederick Douglass, Victoria Schmidt as an Erie Canal cook, Jeanne Gehret as Susan B. Anthony, Christine Ridarski (historian, City of Rochester), and Jeffrey Ludwig as an early temperance advocate.

African American Solidarity, 19th Century Style

Frederick Douglas1In the second half of the nineteenth century, Frederick Douglass was as well-known as Martin Luther King. For many years he lived in Rochester near the Anthony family and frequently dined with them and their Quaker friends.

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