Freedom Time: Touching History Institute

January 27, 2013

On February 5, Xavier University and the University of Cincinnati will bring Freedom Time: Touching History Institute to the Conaton Board Room on Xavier’s campus for a day-long institute for 60 student educators from UC and 60 from Xavier.

At 7:00 that evening in Xavier’s Conaton Learning Commons room 412 the public is invited to a free dynamic one-hour presentation and discussion of slavery and the Underground Railroad movement in this region by two founders of the National Underground Railroad Museum, Inc. in Maysville, KY, who have taught and traveled extensively. In addition, the evening will feature a one-woman performance about human trafficking by Xavier student Jessica Howenstine. Marian Spencer, former vice mayor of Cincinnati, will share the story of her slave ancestry, and the Xavier Gospel Choir will perform.
At the end of the program people may stay for a special activity.

Richard Hamilton, staff scientist for the Cincinnati Observatory since 2003, will speak briefly about the North Star which features prominently in Underground Railroad lore. It is the only star in the evening sky that never moves and always points north. Hamilton will use a computer program to show what the sky looks like over a cloudless Cincinnati on February 5. After 10 minutes, weather permitting, he will take attendees outside and use a green laser to point out the North Star, the Big Dipper, and other constellations that helped orient and direct runaway slaves. Electric candles will be delivered around campus on Jan. 29 for students to place in their residence hall windows to resemble those in safe houses along the Underground Railroad.

UC and Xavier are collaborating to bring history alive for future teachers through an examination of the 19th-century freedom movement. Estimates suggest more than 100,000 slaves passed through the Underground Railroad, many across the Ohio River through Cincinnati, Ripley, Ohio, and Maysville, Kentucky.

“Students at Xavier and UC attend college in an historically rich geographic area with regard to the Underground Railroad,” says Laney Bender-Slack, assistant professor of childhood education and literacy at Xavier. “But many teachers shy away from teaching about racism, oppression, and injustice, so we collaborated to start a conversation and help our preservice teachers learn how to teach about significant issues that contribute to injustices today.”

In January, students at both campuses will study common texts and reflect on the role of this region in the Underground Railroad. They will discuss the texts and related issues with each other in online discussions.

On February 5, both will come together in a workshop for preservice teachers to learn how to teach about slavery and the Underground Railroad. Freedom Time will model a teaching session to junior high students from St. Vincent Ferrer School in Kenwood, an examination of slavery/human trafficking today, and the evening panel of local speakers who have "touched history" in their own ways.

Historian Jerry Gore, great, great grandson of Addison White (called Ohio's most famous fugitive on the Underground Railroad), and scholar Peggy Overly will provide training to the future teachers through modeling instruction, leading simulations, sharing artifacts, and storytelling. Gore and Overly, both educators, are two of the founders of the National Underground Railroad Museum, Inc. in Maysville, KY. They have traveled the U.S. and Canada researching and sharing their stories of the history of enslaved Africans and the Underground Railroad.

"We are excited to host Jerry Gore, Peggy Overly, Marian Spencer, and the Cincinnati community to examine slavery in our region and its legacy today, and also how educators and their students can lead for freedom in our schools, community, and beyond," said Mark Kohan, academic director of UC’s Teaching for Hope & Justice Network.

After the one-day institute, Xavier and UC students will visit a local educational resource of their choice (such as the Rankin House, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, John Parker House, etc.) to gain a deeper understanding as they reflect on the experiences of escaped slaves and conductors, sharing in a collaborative blog.

This project is sponsored by the Department of Childhood Education and Literacy at Xavier University, the University of Cincinnati’s Center for Community Engagement and College of Education, and Xavier’s Center for Interfaith Community Engagement, Office of Multicultural Affairs, Student Government Association, Black Student Association, Eigel Center for Community-Engaged Learning, and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.