So my plans to write weekly have gone a bit awry in September with a home remodeling project that expanded. I’m back and now on the road for a week in upstate New York, following parts of the New York State Network to Freedom—Underground Railroad. This trip was precipitated by a visit to see my good friend, Jennifer Strychasz, in Kingston, Ontario, and an invitation to speak at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, on October 2. I continue to obsess over Harriet Tubman and her remarkable efforts to lead family and friends from the Eastern Shore of Maryland to upstate New York then onto St. Catharines, Ontario. I am amazed that she traveled nearly 800 miles by foot, boat, wagon, and train. A truly astonishing feat! I truly can’t complain from the confines of my air-conditioned car.
On Thursday evening, September 26, I arrived in Albany and had the opportunity for a tour of the Stephen and Harriet Myers Residence. The co-founders, Paul and Mary Liz Stewart, have done a remarkable job of spearheading the effort to restore the house and have run public programs from the house for twenty years including teen summer art programs. For me, their efforts exemplify community and civic engagement at its best. They are dedicated to making history meaningful in the present, and bringing it forward for school-aged youth. The Stewarts also manage the Underground Railroad History Project, another means by which they bring the history the Underground Railroad in upstate New York to the public.
Stephen and Harriet Meyers were prominent leaders of the Underground Railroad in Albany during the 1850s. Harriet Tubman came through their home on her travels through the state, and received invaluable assistance from them. Through the interior of the house, the Stewarts promote not only the telling of the life histories of the Meyers but the walls are lined with murals created by local teenagers that connect the past to the present. On two lots adjacent to the property, students created two gardens in honor of members of the community: Stephen Nelson Foster and Dr. Thomas Elkins.. After my visit, I am reminded that it is often dedicated individuals in local communities who insist that difficult histories should not be forgotten and should be included in the larger narrative of state and national histories.
Stay tuned as I blog about monuments and sites in Schenectady, Lewiston, Rochester, and Auburn as well as St. Catharines, Ontario.