Xavier and University of Cincinnati students learn together how to teach about the Underground Railroad

Workshop and evening event spotlights the history of the Underground Railroad in the region | February 1, 2013

Xavier and the University of Cincinnati are bringing “Freedom Time: Touching History Institute” to Xavier on Tuesday, Feb. 5, to help education students learn how to teach about slavery and the Underground Railroad. The daylong workshop for 120 students from both universities is the culmination of a collaboration by UC and Xavier 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, Ky.

“Students at Xavier and UC attend college in a 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 pre-service teachers learn how to teach about significant issues that contribute to injustices today.”

In January, students at both campuses studied common texts on the role of this region in the Underground Railroad and discussed the texts and related issues with each other in online discussions. The Freedom Time workshop will model a teaching session to junior high students from St. Vincent Ferrer School in Kenwood and includes an examination of slavery and human trafficking today.

Historian Jerry Gore, great-great-grandson of Addison White, considered Ohio's most famous fugitive on the Underground Railroad, and scholar Peggy Overly provide the Freedom Time training to the future teachers through modeling instruction, leading simulations, sharing artifacts and storytelling from 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. in the Conaton Board Room, Gallagher Student Center and Fenwick Hall. Gore and Overly, both educators, are two of the founders of the National Underground Railroad Museum 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. Learn more about Gore and Overly at their website, freedomundergroundrailroad.com.

The workshop is followed by an evening panel of local speakers who have "touched history" in their own ways, including a two-hour presentation by Gore and Overly that includes a discussion of slavery and the Underground Railroad movement in this region. The event begins at 7:00 p.m. in the Conaton Learning Commons Room 412 and is open to students and the public at no charge.

The evening also features a one-woman performance about human trafficking by Xavier student Jessica Howenstine. Marian Spencer, former vice mayor of Cincinnati, is sharing the story of her slave ancestry, and the Xavier Gospel Choir performs. Also, there is a special activity conducted by Richard Hamilton, staff scientist for the Cincinnati Observatory, who is talking 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 Cincinnati and, weather permitting, 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.

"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 workshop, Xavier and UC students will visit a local educational resource of their choice, such as the Rankin House or National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, to gain a deeper understanding as they reflect on the experiences of escaped slaves and conductors, sharing in a collaborative blog.