SAVING UNDERGROUND RAILROAD HAVEN

Livingston Avenue house target of restoration as annual conference nears

CAROL DEMARE STAFF WRITER
Section: Capital Region,  Page: B1

Date: Wednesday, April 6, 2011

ALBANY -- As members of the Underground Railroad History Project prepare for their annual conference this weekend, they are hoping to continue restoration of the historic Livingston Avenue house for which they received a $350,000 grant. The building was a haven for fugitive slaves.


Project co-founder Paul Stewart said the contract for the grant from the state Environmental Protection Fund came through in March after an announcement in January. Several years ago, the organization was awarded a $50,000 grant from the environmental fund. Altogether, including the new grant, about $600,000 has been raised.


The group must now raise 25 percent of the $350,000 in matching funds, Stewart said. Also, reimbursement will come after work on the house has been done, he said.


The 10th annual conference of the Underground Railroad History Project of the Capital Region -- "Abolishing Slavery in the Atlantic World: The 'Underground Railroad' in the Americas, Africa and Europe" -- will focus on "its relationship with us today," said Stewart, a conference coordinator with his wife and project co-founder, Mary Liz Stewart.


The conference, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Russell Sage College in Troy, "will help us understand the Underground Railroad in its international context," Paul Stewart said. "A lot of times people just think of it as people escaping from slavery and going to Canada, but it was so much more than that."


In the 1850s, William and Ellen Craft, husband and wife who escaped from slavery in Georgia, ended up going to England to "make sure they were really safe" and were helped by people working with the Underground Railroad, he said.


Registration for the conference can be completed online at www.ugrworkshop.com. Participants can also register at the workshop. Three major speakers are on the program, all of them tied to universities.


Robin Blackburn, a sociology professor at the University of Essex, England, and visiting professor of historical studies at the New School of Social Research in New York City, will speak on "The International Struggle to End the Slave Trade and Its Ramifications Today."


Franklin Knight, a professor of history at Johns Hopkins Universtiy in Baltimore, will speak on "Of Slavery and Abolition: Perspectives from the World of the Slaves."


Tony Burroughs, a professor at Chicago State University and an expert in African-American genealogy, will speak on "Heritage Preservation Through Genealogical Research."


One of the local participants, Mildred Chang, a Jamaican-born expert on Jamaican Accompong Maroons, will lead a workshop on Saturday on "Marronage: Defiance and Empowerment." The Maroons are descended from runaway slaves who established free communities in the mountains of Jamaica and resisted British conquest during the era of slavery. There will be a performance by the Jamaican Accompong Maroons, descendants of the traditional maroons.


In Albany, 194 Livingston Ave. was the residence of Stephen and Harriet Myers, which housed the office of the Vigilance Committee, a leading organization in the local abolitionist movement headed by Stephen Myers. In the mid-1800s, Livingston Avenue was known as Lumber Street and dead-ended at the city's lumber district, where many lumber boat captains helped fugitive slaves, many of whom found safe haven at the Myers' home.


The Stewarts, through their research, linked the residence to the movement. Records also show the Myers were tenants in the house owned by John Johnson, a black boat captain. The residence was obtained from Albany County, which had foreclosed on the property. County lawmakers agreed to sell it to the group for $1,500 in 2004. If work goes as planned, a public opening is possible in the summer or fall of 2012, Paul Stewart said.


Reach Carol DeMare at 454-5431 or cdemare@timesunion.com.