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First Meeting of the

Underground Railroad Advisory Committee

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

March 31, 1993 

The first meeting of the Underground Railroad Advisory Committee was held in the Second Bank of the United States 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.  


The call 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 site”. 

Acting 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.” 

Mr. 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 URAC to keep in mind the clearances, approval procedures, budget, and time frame. 

Regional 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. 


Members of the URAC then introduced themselves and briefly stated why they’re here (their interest in UR project). They are as follows: 

Ms. Glennette Tilley-Turner, Author-Educator, Wheaton, 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 UR). 

Mr. Charles Blockson, Curator, Blockson Collection, Temple University, Philadelphia, 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 UR movement. There are at least 20 sites in and around Philadelphia. Because of urban renewal, etc. not every house or structure is original. Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania are most important states involved in movement.

He said 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.” 

Ms. Rose Powhatan-Auld, 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.” 

Dr. Ancella Bickley, formerly of West Virginia State College, Charleston, WV. 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.” 

Ms. Vivian Abdur-Rahim, 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 Canada.      

Dr. Thomas Battle, Director, Moorland-Springarm Research Center, Howard University, Washington, DC. Depositories of African-American aspects of history. Feels strongly about how UR fits into African-American history and wants to make sure that interests of history are interpreted. 

Dr. John Fleming, Director, National African-American Museum and Cultural Center, Wilberforce, 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.  

Ms. Barbara Hudson, 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). 

Team 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 next meeting. 


Election 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.” 

In 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 park system

  • 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

  • make recommendations for cooperative agreements with state and local governments, local historical organizations, and other entities

  • include cost estimates for the alternatives 

In 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. 

Mr. 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.” 

To 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 sector initiatives. 

Team 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). 

Because 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. 

Other items briefly talked about were a charter for committee, funding, data collection, workshop in Kansas City last year, public involvement. 

Barbara 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 study itself. 

General comments/questions: 

We need to include category on myths and legends. 

Not only were Quakers involved but also Unitarians, Congregationalists, Native Americans. 

Must not forget the John Brown connection. 

What preceded period of European slavery (slave trade)? 

Include topic of “rural slavery”—not just urban slavery/plantation slavery.

Broader participation in study; use Black Press of America. 

URAC March 31, 1993 Meeting 

There was preexisting system of slavery in U.S.; indigenous role; Native Americans assisted fugitive slaves.  

Add Europe to list of areas (states, Mexico, Canada, Caribbean).

 Lunch break 11:35 a.m.; reconvened at 12:35 p.m. 

After 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.” 

Karen 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 with. 

 Jim Charleton, national historic landmark coordinator, WASO, 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 NHL 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.   

Travel 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 UR 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). 

General comments: 

  • Need 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 House”.

  • Washington Square Park 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?

Team 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). 

NHL study and special resource study are separate but feed into each other. 

Dr. 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 history.  

Jim 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 NHLs. 

Dr. 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 gathered. 

One of 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? 

Mr. Blockson said that his interest in UR was sparked out of song; Ms. Tilley-Turner’s because of children’s curiosity. 

Sharon 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. 

Team 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. 

John 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) 

General comments: 

Concern that one alternative could not have all elements felt necessary.

Committee should have right to endorse or not document. Their recommendations should be part of document that goes to Congress. 

National Park Service cannot currently make recommendation. That perhaps could change in next few years. 

What 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 URAC

Poster Contests? Special Days? 

Is it possible to have exhibition (traveling) on UR? 


This was a two-step process. 

Motion by Ms. Hudson to have a chair, vice chair, and secretary, Seconded.

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. 

URAC, 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. 

Question 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. 

Vincent 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. 

Move that three positions be instituted. All in favor. None opposed. Motion carried. 

Nomination of Charles Blockson as chair URAC. Seconded.

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
Barbara Hudson
Dr. John Fleming
Glennette Tilley-Turner 

Dr. Ancella Bickley
Charles Blockson
Vivian Abdur-Rahim
Rose Powhatan

Public Involvement
Glennette Tilley-Turner
Rose Powhatan-Auld
Dr. Thomas Battle     

Move to accept nominations. Seconded. All in favor. None opposed. Motion carried. 

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. 

Comments 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 handouts). 

Move to adjourn first meeting of URAC. Seconded.  So moved. 

U.S. Department of the Interior               NPS                        Denver Service Center

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