Meeting of the
Underground Railroad Advisory Committee
March 31, 1993
first meeting of the Underground Railroad Advisory Committee
was held in the Second Bank of the
Building in Philadelphia on March 31, 1993. In attendance
were Underground Railroad Advisory Committee (URAC) members,
NPS study team members, Acting Director Herb Cables,
Mid-Atlantic Regional Director John Reynolds, Superintendent
Martha Aikens of Independence National Historical Park, and
other interested individuals.
to order was given by John Paige, team captain for the
Underground Railroad Special Resource Study. He thanked
Superintendent Aikens for allowing us to have the meeting
here, and to Peter Iris-Williams, Underground Railroad
Planning Liaison for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Office, for
organizing the meeting.
Superintendent Aikens spoke first saying that, “Philadelphia
figured prominently in the Underground Railroad (UR) effort
as well as the state itself. Independence NHP is the home of
the Liberty Bell, a symbol around the world for freedom and
liberty. The park has been designated a world heritage
Director Cables said, “This will be a historic study. We owe
a debt of gratitude for the advisory committee’s time and
effort in this undertaking. We in the National Park Service
owe Mr. Blockson our gratitude for being so involved
in the underground railroad movement.”
Cables also reiterated that per the legislation, make sure
inclusion of public involvement is adhered to: “As you move
forward, remember to keep the public involved. We look to
you, the committee, to help in organizing this study—your
ideas, sources, sites and routes, etc. Direct our staff to
areas for resources.” He also stressed to the
to keep in mind the clearances, approval procedures, budget,
and time frame.
Director Reynolds mentioned, in particular, the presence of
Dr. Fleming, the primary mover to getting Wilberforce going
(the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center). He
also acknowledged Martha Aikens, superintendent of a world
heritage site. He also mentioned the Liberty Bell, a symbol
we need to recognize. In closing, he asked that the URAC not
hesitate to call on him.
INTRODUCTION OF COMMITTEE
of the URAC then introduced themselves and briefly stated
why they’re here (their interest in UR project). They are as
IL. Keen interest in
UR, particularly Harriet Tubman. Spent many years in
promoting interest in UR. Has published several articles on
movement; manuscript of children’s novel (their role in
Curator, Blockson Collection,
PA., has a large collection of books, articles, photographs,
etc. of Afro-American history. Has been fascinated by UR
movement for years. Receives over 55 calls per month
regarding UR. He has authored articles on UR movement in
National Geographic. His advice, “Be careful what you
document; make sure you thoroughly research.” Not every
house or site was involved in
movement. There are at least 20 sites in and around
Philadelphia. Because of urban renewal, etc. not every house
or structure is original.
and Pennsylvania are most important states involved in
he was reluctant to participate in project. “What I do, I do
for my country, my people. Project should be for children.
We owe it to those (black and white) who were such a big
part of it.”
Eastern High School,
Washington, DC., descendant of Powhatan tribe. Indian people
have a long history of assisting in UR. They hid runaways.
80% of Africans who came here were males. She said, “Slavery
is a tri-racial story that needs to be told. We need to get
people to open up and designate sites, particularly in the
South, for the first time.”
formerly of West Virginia State College, Charleston,
About 5-6 years ago felt their history in West Virginia was
submerged. Began State Conference on Black History in West
Virginia. Information is there—along the river from
Pittsburgh to Cairo. She said, “The UR was a tremendously
human cooperative movement. Documenting sites, etc. in West
Virginia would be hard but not impossible.”
Founder-Director, Harriet Tubman Historical Society,
Wilmington, DE. Society was founded by herself and her
mother. Interested in Harriet Tubman (her history and life),
resources of Wilmington,
DE, and its
involvement in UR. Thomas Garrett was participator in UR;
there is historical marker where station used to be. In 1990
a resolution was passed and the society organized a National
Day to honor Harriet Ross Tubman throughout the country and
Research Center, Howard
DC. Depositories of African-American aspects of history.
Feels strongly about how
fits into African-American history and wants to make sure
that interests of history are interpreted.
Director, National African-American Museum and Cultural
OH. He is a trained
historian (expertise in slavery and reconstruction periods).
He says, “I am not an authority on UR.” The museum is
interested in documenting and displaying information on
sites on UR. Sites in Ohio actively assisted in movement.
Curator of African-American Art, and Executive Director,
Amistad Foundation, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT.
Exhibition 1842-1992 of African-American History; Member of
Connecticut Historical Commission (looking at UR sites).
Connecticut has quite a few sites used in UR. Interest is
historical (based on research).
Captain Paige stated that Dr. Robin Winks, Yale
University, New Haven, CT, is only member who could not be
here (he’s out of the country); he may be able to attend
of officers--chair, vice chair, and secretary—was changed
from the morning session to the afternoon session. Meeting
continued with NPS briefing. Team Captain Paige talked about
how project got started and what has happened so far. He
said that, “Mr. Blockson played important role in getting
the legislation passed.”
conducting a study of alternatives for commemorating and
interpreting the Underground Railroad, the National Park
Service has to address specific items in the legislation.
The study will
consider the establishment of a new unit of the national
consider the establishment of various appropriate
designations for those routes and sites used by the
Underground Railroad, and alternative means to link those
sites, including in Canada and Mexico
recommendations for cooperative agreements with state and
local governments, local historical organizations, and
include cost estimates for the alternatives
addition to legislation, there are certain issues that must
be mentioned. Warren Brown, Chief, Park Planning and
Protection, WASO, and member of NPS study team, talked about
procedural matters and study process.
Brown stated that according to the Federal Advisory
Committee Act, business must be conducted in openness (open
to the public). Notice of any advisory committee meeting
must be published in the Federal Register 15 days prior to
meeting. A designated federal official must be present at
meeting. He said, “We can talk to committee members
individually. It means that before any resolution is passed
the public must be notified.”
evaluate whether particular sites have the potential to be
included in the national park system, a special resource
study is conducted. Areas must be subjected to criteria for
national significance, suitability, and feasibility. A range
of management alternatives is also included. The process of
sending a study to Congress is sometimes tedious and long.
What becomes of the study? Options—legislative proposal
could be developed, legislation might be introduced for new
unit, budget proposals (initiatives) – e.g., improved
interpretation in existing national park system units;
programs outside existing units; National Register of
Historic Places properties; technical assistance; private
Captain Paige also talked about special resource
studies—that we have to develop a statement of significance
and list of sites to be considered. How do we know something
is of national significance, suitability and feasibility,
and management options (alternatives to NPS management).
UR study encompasses 34 states, Canada, Mexico, and
Caribbean (six separate NPS regions will be involved), the
study will be reviewed by all 6 regions and WASO. Prior to
submitting study to Congress, the study will be presented to
the National Park System Advisory Board (they have
opportunity to review document and make comments). To comply
with the National Environmental Policy Act, an environmental
assessment will be included in the study.
items briefly talked about were a charter for committee,
funding, data collection, workshop in
last year, public involvement.
Tagger was introduced next. She is project historian (based
in Atlanta); works in the NPS Southeast Regional Office in
the Conservation Assistance Branch, primarily on possible
congressionally authorized sites and trails. She has
produced public brochures that include a brief overview of
UR (diaspora of African people, UR was not exclusive to
North America, colonial period, system used—escape routes),
a chronology, and a comment page. She collects information
(not all regions are represented; mainly information on
Northeast and Midwest).
She said, “Canada is
very involved in commemorating UR. And they are interested
in working with us on interpreting UR.” She promoted the
study whenever she can at talks she gives. She handed out to
committee members an overview of the UR and a preliminary
research outline for the history section of the UR special
resource study (copies of these items are attached). She
pointed out that help is needed from URAC on site
identification for landmarks program as well as for the
to include category on myths and legends.
were Quakers involved but also Unitarians,
Congregationalists, Native Americans.
forget the John Brown connection.
preceded period of European slavery (slave trade)?
topic of “rural slavery”—not just urban slavery/plantation
participation in study; use Black Press of America.
URAC March 31, 1993 Meeting
was preexisting system of slavery in U.S.; indigenous role;
Native Americans assisted fugitive slaves.
Europe to list of areas (states, Mexico, Canada, Caribbean).
break 11:35 a.m.; reconvened at 12:35 p.m.
lunch Ms. Tilley-Turner, who specializes in gathering
history on Midwest
involvement in UR,
had the committee members participate in the reading of a
skit, “The Douglas Station of the UR.”
Arey then talked about what happened at Kansas City workshop
(there are three URAC
members who attended that workshop—(Dr. Battle, Ms.
Powhatan-Auld, and Ms. Tilley-Turner). Dr. Battle remarked
that those who came to the session talked of widespread
interest—commonality; pursuit of interpretation. Roles of
existing organizations should be supported not competed
Charleton, national historic landmark coordinator,
talked (with Barbara Tagger) about National Historic
Landmark Program (copy of handout attached). He is a
consultant to study team. He remarked that Philadelphia was
birthplace of freedom and that there is no exhibition of UR
history in Independence Hall. He said, “The
program is highly selective. The big issue is, how do we
evaluate properties? There is limited time and limited
resources. “That’s where URAC
can be very beneficial in selecting areas for study (suggest
25-30). Two working draft lists of areas were also handouts:
first site list for NHL
theme study (Jim Charleton remarked that it contains too
many white abolitionists residences); second
list—supplemental prepared by Barbara Tagger.
to priority sites for NHL
studies has to be done in near future to meet congressional
deadline. Need to look at sites very carefully in
Philadelphia, as it was major place of
movement. How do we address how UR profoundly differed in
certain areas? High priority on various aspect of story.
Because of timeframe/opportunity (cannot see or know all
sites) need principles, rules on how sites could be brought
in later. Jim Charleton, at request of Ms. Hudson, briefly
explained process (see handout on NHL
program; copy is attached).
more documentation (further evaluation) on sites; no site
should be ignored.
Independence hall used to be called Old State House.
Liberty Bell referred to as “old bell that hangs in State
used to be called
Congo Square—“auction block for slaves”.
Reiterated that we need to look at existing sites; what do
they or do they not say about UR?
Captain Paige stated that alternatives need to properly
consider aspects like houses, cemeteries, etc., because some
sites no longer exist, or because black people could not buy
properties/structures. Somehow the story needs to be told
(intangible aspects-location, event).
study and special resource study are separate but feed into
Bickley has concern that NHL
in traditional sense does not fit into new idea concept. Mr.
Blockson remarked that recognition should be given to
ancestors who participated in movement; interpretation of
Charleton said that we need to know about properties that
have since been destroyed; we also need to study properties
in “endangerment.” We want to know about those as soon as
possible so they can be studies for
Fleming asked, “Does site have to be on National Register
before it can be considered as NHL?”
Jim Charleton replied that it is not a requirement, but it
makes it easier because much of the data is already
the key aspects of the project is interpretation. And with
that, Sharon Brown, interpretive planner for the study, made
her presentation (handout of draft interpretive themes
attached). She asked, “How do we get the message across to
people on UR?” Key themes or messages—Who was involved? Why
were they involved? What is the meaning?
Blockson said that his interest in UR was sparked out of
song; Ms. Tilley-Turner’s because of children’s curiosity.
Brown asked, “How can somebody who’s never been to certain
place get the story?” Must we “think big” in geographical
terms? She asked that the committee look over the draft
themes and subthemes and provide comments.
Captain Paige stated that there are lots of sites and lots
of ideas. To help committee, we formulated very preliminary
ideas for alternatives. At our next meeting, we’ll have more
in-depth discussion and maybe come up with new alternatives
and beef up existing ones.
Marsh, architect on the study team, gave a briefing of seven
alternatives (handout attached). The seven alternatives are
tentatively titled as follows:
Alternative 1 - No Action
Alternative 2 - National Commemorative Center
Alternative 3 - Hubs and Spokes
Alternative 4 - Enhanced Existing Units/Sites
Alternative 5 - New National Park System
Alternative 6 - Commemorative Trails
Alternative 7 - Handbook and Program Materials (this
alt.does not stand alone)
that one alternative could not have all elements felt
Committee should have right to endorse or not document.
Their recommendations should be part of document that goes
Park Service cannot currently make recommendation. That
perhaps could change in next few years.
about commemorative stamp? This involves a committee of post
office. Idea is already there—stamp advisory committee; but
it needs support, perhaps of someone like
Contests? Special Days?
possible to have exhibition (traveling) on UR?
a two-step process.
by Ms. Hudson to have a chair, vice chair, and secretary,
Discussion: Mr. Blockson wanted to know what was required of
the chair? Team Captain Paige replied that as we work
through the process, the chair will keep committee apprised
and run meetings. Duties of vice chair – acts in absence of
chair. Secretary – records notes of meetings. Future
meetings run by chair of URAC;
study team becomes contributor.
as a whole, felt NPS should keep detailed notes and submit
them to URAC for review/changes, URAC
can have its own meetings, but for formal meetings, these
must be published in Federal Register 30 days prior
to meeting. Budget - $25,000 for committee meetings. We
should be able to have the second meeting this fiscal year.
asked, “How would subcommittees come together”? Do you have
to have Federal Register notification? Reply was no,
you can use phone/letter. Anytime they so desire,
subcommittees can make recommendations to full committee.
deForest, Regional Liaison, National Capital Region, make
some remarks. Committee should maximize benefit of other
associations’ get-togethers. Participation helps to
enhance/foster results of study. Have URAC meeting in
conjunction with other events, etc., Ways to cut
expenses—stay at black universities.
that three positions be instituted. All in favor. None
opposed. Motion carried.
Nomination of Charles Blockson as chair
Discussion: Talk about what is involved, how much time?
Leadership/visibility is needed. Mr. Blockson was called the
“dean” of African-American history. Mr. Blockson accepted
but needs help of URAC.
Move that Charles Blockson be nominated as chair. All in
favor. None opposed. Motion carried.
Nomination of Barbara Hudson as vice chair. Seconded. All in
favor. None opposed. Motion carried.
Nomination of Rose Powhatan-Auld. Seconded. All in favor.
None opposed. Motion carried.
Subcommittees and members are as follows:
Dr. Thomas Battle
Dr. John Fleming
Dr. Ancella Bickley
Dr. Thomas Battle
accept nominations. Seconded. All in favor. None opposed.
Tentatively set for sometime
week of July 12, 1993, probably July 15-16 (Thursday and
Friday). Dates agreed on by committee. Purpose will be to
flesh out alternatives preparatory to going to public. Will
be working session, probably two full days. Location to be
investigated; maybe in conjunction with other activities.
Regarding Dr. Winks—reserve assignment to committee until
contact with him; may need to have alternate.
on handout items (historical section overview, site list,
themes, range of alternatives) from members: respond by two
weeks preferably (by phone or write comments in margins of
adjourn first meeting of URAC. Seconded. So moved.
Department of the Interior NPS