PROGRAM | SPEAKER IDEAS
NOTE: The program and speaker ideas were put together for the traveling exhibition Programming Guide for Through Darkness to Light: Photographs Along the Underground Railroad by © 2018 ExhibitsUSA, a national program of Mid-America Arts Alliance.
Consider collaborating with your local community, university, or repertory theatre to host a performance of a play about the life of Harriet Tubman (Freedom Train), Frederick Douglass (Frederick Douglass Now), or Sojourner Truth (Sojourner’s Truth: I Will Shake Everyplace I Go To) as a public theatre performance in relation to the Underground Railroad.
CONCERT: SONGS OF FREEDOM, RESISTANCE, AND THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD
Through a partnership with local or regional choirs or university music departments in your area, present a chorale concert that features African-American spirituals and/or other songs that where significant to early plantation life as an enslaved person, the story of the Underground Railroad, or African-American history in general.
BOOK DISCUSSION: UNCLE TOM'S CABIN
Collaborate with your local public library and/or local or regional college or university’s literature department to discuss the life and literary work of author Harriet Beecher Stowe and to showcase and discuss the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Published in 1852, this novel made Stowe famous and helped communicate to a vast population the injustices of slavery. A comparison between this book in historic context and life today can be integrated as an important discussion topic.
THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD: A DISCUSSION FACT VS. FICTION
Present an illustrated talk that presents and debunks myths that often are perpetuated in folklore and literature about the Underground Railroad. Use researched scholarship (maps, documents, and slave narratives) presented by an expert historian (or National Park Service program officer who interprets one of the National Underground Railroad Park Service historic sites) to shed light on what information related to the Underground Railroad is fact and what is mostly fiction perpetuated as a myth.
HISTORICAL TALK: FREE BLACKS IN AMERICA
Consider engaging Dr. Cheryl LaRoche, an archaeologist whose life’s work has been related to excavating and researching home sites of eighteenth- and nineteenth century free black individuals in the United States. Dr. LaRoche can present a talk about the relationship of free blacks to the history of the Underground Railroad.
READINGS: NARRATIVES OF SLAVERY
Host a reading or series of readings that features published excerpts from escaped slaves’ narratives and/or writings found in the Library of Congress archives. Consider collaborating with your local public library or university English or literature department and/or university theatre department to make these powerful and true personal accounts of history come alive. Julius Lester, author of To Be a Slave, or David W. Blight, author of A Slave No More, would be excellent speakers to address this topic.
PANEL DISCUSSION: ROUTES OF THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD, SIGNIFICANT STATIONS, AND STATIONMASTERS
Host a panel discussion or mini-symposium that discusses the varied Underground Railroad routes heading north toward and into Canada and those going south to spotlight challenging crossings and geographic terrain. Present information about famous “safehouses” of the Underground Railroad—many sites today are National Park Service Underground Railroad parks. Discuss significant helpers or “stationmasters” of Underground Railroad history both black and white who aided those on the run. Consider engaging scholar Fergus Bordewich, historian Anthony Cohen, and/or several National Park Service site managers from varied Underground Railroad Historic sites and parks across the United States.
ARTIST TALK WITH ARTIST JEANINE MICHNA-BALES
Invite the artist of Through Darkness to Light: Photographs Along the Underground Railroad (Jeanine Michna-Bales), who can speak about her photographs and the process of researching the series for the book project of the same title.
POTENTIAL PROGRAM SPEAKERS
The following individuals and organizations have been contacted by Mid-America Arts Alliance for the traveling exhibition by ExhibitsUSA and they have expressed an interest in receiving invitations from organizations to present a strong program inspired by Through Darkness to Light: Photographs Along the Underground Railroad. Please discuss speaker honoraria and travel fees, your program’s goal, the intended audience, and the timeframe for the program with each individual to ensure full consideration of your invitation.
Fergus M. Bordewich
Historian and Author (essayist in Through Darkness to Light: Photographs Along the Underground Railroad)
San Francisco, CA
TOPIC(S): General history of the Underground Railroad, How the Underground Railroad really worked, freedom seekers in the Underground Railroad, The Underground Railroad as America’s first Civil Rights movement, Quakers and the Underground Railroad, myths of the Underground Railroad (quilts, tunnels, etc.), Underground Railroad and religion, Underground Railroad in the East and West. Fergus’ standard honorarium is $1,000 plus travel expenses (contact him to make arrangements or negotiate the fee).
BIOGRAPHY: An independent historian and writer since the 1970s, Fergus M. Bordewich is the author of seven non-fiction books including Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America. As an author and journalist who grew up in Yonkers, New York, Fergus M. Bordewich was intrigued by stories that fugitive slaves had founded the nearby neighborhood of Ruynon Heights in Yonkers, where many residents were African American. While researching for his book Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America, he learned that the Runyon Heights story was a legend. In 2015, he served as chairman of the awards committee for the Frederick Douglass Book Prize, given by the Gilder-Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, at Yale University. He is a frequent public speaker at universities and other forums, as well as on radio and television.
Jeanine Michna Bales
Artist, Photographer, author of Through Darkness to Light: Photographs Along the Underground Railroad
TOPIC(S): Her photography project of sites along the Underground Railroad
BIOGRAPHY: Michna-Bales’ work explores the relationships between what has occurred, or is occurring, in a society and how people react to those events. She meticulously researches each topic—considering different viewpoints, causes and effects and political climates—and
often incorporates found or archival text and audio into her projects. Whether exploring the darkened stations along the Underground Railroad, long-forgotten nuclear fallout shelters, or the invisible epicenter of environmental turmoil, her work seeks out places that are hidden all around us in plain sight, each with its own story begging to be told and lessons waiting to be shared. Images from her Underground Railroad series have appeared in group shows around the United States.
Boston African American National Historic Site
15 State Street
Boston, MA 02109
TOPIC(S): Rangers from Boston African American National Historic Site are available to give presentations about the Black Heritage Trail which highlights Boston’s role in the abolition movement and Underground Railroad. People and topics addressed include Lewis and Harriet Hayden, the African Meeting House, and Boston’s response to the Fugitive Slave Act. Cost would be for travel expenses—no speaker fees necessary. The Boston African National Historic Site offers presentations about the Underground Railroad as it relates to Boston by looking at the sites along the Black Heritage Trail.
CONNECTING WITH LOCAL AND REGIONAL EXPERTS
Contact local groups with whom you might wish to collaborate for program design, audience development, or speaker outreach. Some ideas related to the series:
• African American Studies or History departments at a local or regional university
• Museums and/or cultural centers dedicated to African American History
• Regional or local historic sites that interpret aspects of Underground Railroad history
• Local choirs or singing groups that perform traditional spirituals or gospel music evolved from antebellum plantation fieldwork songs
• Quaker groups in your community who can share information about the history of the Quakers and slavery
• Your local libraries and librarians who can help you plan reading lists or book club programs tied to works of related fiction and nonfiction literature (Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, My Bondage and My Freedom by Frederick Douglass, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, etc.)
Your state arts council, state humanities council, or regional arts organizations may also be able to help you locate regional speakers who would be willing to be involved in a program or event at your museum.
• A list of state arts organizations can be found on the National Endowment for the Arts website, or call 202-682-5400.
• A list of state humanities councils can be found at the National Endowment for the Humanities website, or call 800-NEH (634)-1121.
• The US Regional Arts Organization represents six nonprofit entities created to encourage development of the arts and to support arts programs on a regular basis. Their web site lists all state arts agencies. You can also check your regional arts organization for information on its performing arts programs.