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A Path Through NYC History: Black History Month
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A Path Through NYC History: Black History Month

Picture of Daniel Horowitz
Updated: 12 December 2015
New York City, largely assumed to be a hub of social and political activism in the 19th century and beyond, is well known for housing esteemed black leaders such as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. With allies such as Gerrit Smith, John Brown and William Seward, Douglass, Tubman, and other black anti-slavery advocates were able to create the Underground Railroad, a network of safe houses and routes to ferry slaves out of Southern states to freedom.

It is not well known that in the decades leading up to the Civil War, New York City’s banking and shipping interests were closely related to the cotton and sugar trade, and that anti-abolitionist fervor hit a fever pitch during these years. Despite the tense political and economic situation, more than 3,000 slaves made their way through more than 24 Underground Railroad sites in New York, with the ultimate goal of escaping to upstate New York, Canada or England.

To commemorate this complicated history and promote tourism throughout the state, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently spearheaded the ‘Path Through History’ initiative, which creates a comprehensive look at some of these sites and acknowledges New York’s role in both the ending and perpetuating the slave trade. To celebrate Black History Month in the US, here is a preview of four of the sites involved in the Underground Railroad as listed in the civil rights section of the ‘Path Through History.’

John Brown Farm

The John Brown Farm State Historic Site is the homestead and burial place of ardent 19th century abolitionist andUnderground Railroad conductor John Brown, who is best known for his failed raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia. High in the Adirondack Mountains, the peacefulness of the setting greatly contrasts with Brown’s life and philosophy, as he believed in armed insurrection against proponents of slavery, which differed from many other abolitionists at the time.

John Brown Farm, 200 John Brown Rd, Lake Placid, NY, USA +1 518 523 3900

National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum

In 1835 wealthy philanthropist and abolitionist Gerrit Smith invited the NYS Anti-Slavery society to assemble at the local Presbyterian Church in Peterboro and helped to fund and create an Underground Railroad stop there. A part of the Gerrit Smith Estate, it was declared a historical landmark in 2001 and also houses the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum, which details the dangerous lives that abolitionists lead while skirting the law and fighting for equality.

National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum, 5255 Pleasant Valley Road, Peterboro NY, USA +1 315 280 8828

The Harriet Tubman Home

The most famous of the Underground Railroad conductors, Harriet Tubman was a noted humanitarian crucial in the fight for both African American and woman’s rights. The Harriet Tubman Home was purchased illegally by Tubman from William H. Seward, a US senator at the time and a dear friend, and represents her continued struggle to run the Underground Railroad and free such notable people as Austin Steward, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs and Reverend Thomas James.

The Harriet Tubman Home, 180 South Street, Auburn, NY, USA +1 315 252 2081

Underground Railroad Site Tours, Buffalo

Buffalo was the final stop on the Underground Railroad, and allowed freed slaves to escape to Canada or beyond. There are several notable Underground Railroad sites that are still largely intact, although many pre-Civil War sites make false claims about their involvement. Tour companies, such as Motherland Connections, provide comprehensive authentic looks at these sites, and give full context as to their meaning and significance in the fight to end slavery.

Motherland Connections, Buffalo, NY, USA +1 716 282 1028

By Daniel Horowitz

According to his mother, Daniel was an easygoing child. That is no longer the case. He doesn’t like the rain and writes comic books and digital journalism. He sleeps late and dreams big.