Underground Railroad Heritage Center Opens in Niagara Falls, New York

A museum and convention hall commemorating the Underground Railroad has opened in Niagara Falls, New York.  The Underground Railroad Heritage Center (URHC) opened in 2018 to honor the courage, sacrifice, and determination of the many people who helped escapees in their journey to freedom prior to abolition of human slavery in the United States.  The URHC includes interactive displays, video reenactments of daring escapes, reproductions of documents pertinent to the proto-abolition movement, and even a walk-through replica of a portion of the bridge that spanned the Niagara River to provide passage from New York to Canada.

Human slavery was abolished in Canada, as part of the British Empire, in 1833 but not in the U.S., at the federal level, until 1865.  As a result, northern New York cities, such as Niagara Falls, Buffalo, and Rochester, became important destinations for humans escaping slavery, particularly during these interim years.  Frederick Douglass—himself a former slave—poetically encapsulated this notion in the name of his famous abolitionist newspaper, The North Star, which launched in Rochester in 1847.

Underground Railroad:  America’s most powerful precedent for direct action

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Image by Humane Herald staff

The Underground Railroad is a term used for the clandestine network of allies, resources, and places of refuge organized to help people escape from bondage in the U.S.  This network represents an early American example of sophisticated, committed, and persistent direct action which can be viewed, in that regard, as an antecedent to the Animal Liberation Front of today.  The Underground Railroad included people from all walks of life who provided food, shelter, and other assistance to its “passengers.”

Some involved were themselves escaped slaves, including Harriet Tubman, a “conductor” who led nineteen successful forays into slave territory, rescuing over three hundred humans from slavery prior to passage of the 13th Amendment (1865), which abolished human slavery in the US.  Because of her extensive knowledge of the terrain, Tubman also served the U.S. Army as a spy during the U.S. Civil War (1861-65).  Tubman’s home in Auburn, New York, is now part of a museum honoring both the Underground Railroad and Tubman’s lifelong activist efforts to improve the condition of former slaves even after human slavery had been abolished.

Ongoing efforts

Thanks in part to the Women on 20s movement, Harriet Tubman’s likeness is now scheduled to replace that of the genocidal, slave-holding progenitor of the Democratic Party, Andrew Jackson, on the US$20 bill.  Removal of Jackson from the US$20 bill comports directly with Section 15 of the Humane Party platform, which calls for “removing the names and likenesses of chief perpetrators and enablers of [genocide and human slavery] from all places of honor, such places including but not limited to U.S. currency and landmarks.”  This call for action gained national and international attention in 2017 as a result of clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, over removal of Democrat secessionist—so-called “Confederate”—landmarks.

Activist opportunities

Next to the museum, the URHC also comprises a large convention hall.  Because of the strong anti-slavery and civil rights messaging of this facility, the Humane Party Thunder Fund, a grassroots mobilization organization, is exploring the possibility of hosting its first annual Law, Ethics, Economics, and Politics Conference (the “LEEP Conference”) at the URHC in summer, 2019.

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Image by Humane Herald staff

Some photos of the Underground Railroad Heritage Center are available in the HP stock photo database.  HP volunteers are encouraged to tap both this database and the promotional images database for use in creating materials for civil rights and anti-slavery campaigns, conferences, and events.  Activists who would like to participate in the modern campaign both to end all slavery and to remedy the effects of human slavery—which effects are still very present today—are invited to submit the Humane Party volunteer application.

~ Shelley Harrison