Explore African American History in the Northeast

With Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and a long weekend around the corner, and Black History Month kicking off on February 1st, now is the perfect time of year to explore some of the incredible black history sites, museums and landmarks the Northeast has to offer.

According to New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, New York State was at the forefront of the Underground Railroad movement. It was a major destination for freedom-seekers for four main reasons:

  • Destination & Gateway: New York was a gateway to liberation for freedom-seekers (often referred to as escaped slaves). Its prime location, with access to Canada and major water routes, made it the destination of choice for many Africans fleeing slavery along the eastern seaboard.
  • Safe Haven: Freedom-seekers knew they would be protected in New York’s many black communities as well as Quaker and other progressive white and mixed race communities. A large and vocal free black population was present after the manumission (freeing) of slaves in New York State in 1827.
  • Powerful Anti-Slavery Movement: Anti-slavery organizations were abundant in New York State – more than any other state. The reform politics and the progressive nature of the state gave rise to many active anti-slavery organizations.
  • Strong Underground Railroad Leaders: Many nationally-known and locally influential black and white abolitionists chose to make their homes in New York. Among them were: Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Gerrit Smith, Henry Ward Beecher, Sojourner Truth and John Brown.

Explore all that the Underground Railroad Heritage Trail has to offer across New York State this winter by visiting the many important historic sites, museums and interpretive centers related to the Underground Railroad.

Visit The Harriet Tubman Home in Auburn, NY. The Harriet Tubman Home preserves the legacy of “The Moses of Her People” in the place where she lived and died in freedom. The site is located on 26 acres of land in Auburn, New York, and is owned and operated by the AME Zion Church. It includes four buildings, two of which were used by Harriet Tubman.

The Harriet Tubman Home is open to visitors Tuesday through Friday from 11 AM to 4 PM, and Saturdays by appointment. Extended hours are available in February (Black History Month).

Public Transportation: AMTRAK to Syracuse; cab/rent a car 30 miles to Auburn, NY.

Or, for a quick day-trip, visit Villa Lewaro in Westchester County, home of the early 20th century cosmetics manufacturer, Madam C.J. Walker. According to BlackPast.org’s National African American Historic Landmarks by State, the home was built in 1918 and designed by the first registered African American architect, Vertner Tandy. Walker used her home as a meeting site for race relations issues.

Public Transportation: Metro North Railroad to Irvington, NY; walk or cab 1 mile

You could also pop up to Dutchess County via Metro North Railroad to visit the First Congregational Church of Poughkeepsie. From its creation in 1837, FCC has been an important presence for Christian mission and social justice in downtown Poughkeepsie and was actually founded as an anti-slavery church.

Public Transportation: Metro North Railroad to Poughkeepsie, NY; cab 3 miles.

Looking to travel a bit further for a long weekend? Make your way down to Washington, D.C. via Amtrak to visit the brand new National Museum of African American History and Culture, the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture. Check out the 36,000+ artifacts present in the museum, as well as the surrounding sites that D.C. has to offer!

Public Transportation: Amtrak to D.C.; cab or metro 3 miles.

Been there, done that already? Hop on the Amtrak instead to visit the African American Museum in Philadelphia, the first institution built by a major United States city to house and interpret the life and work of African Americans.

Public Transportation: Amtrak to Philadelphia; walk, cab or metro 1.7 miles.

Philly is extra special to EscapeMaker since founder Caylin Sanders’ ancestors were prominent abolitionists in Philadelphia during the late 1800’s. Sanders recently discovered her 3 times-great grandparents, Edward and Anna Thorpe Wetherill, corresponded with Harriet Tubman and the leading Quaker abolitionists of the day like Thomas Garrett in letters she found at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania . The Wetherills hosted prominent editors like William Lloyd Garrison with The Liberator newspaper and authors like Harriet Beecher Stowe of Uncle Tom’s cabin at their mansion, Chalkley Hall, just outside Philadelphia in Frankford. In the 1860’s they sheltered escaped slaves working their way north along the Underground Railroad at both their homes at 911 Clinton Street in Philadelphia as well as at Chalkley Hall, which was demolished in 1952 and whose main door entrance is now on display at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. At the intersection of Clinton St. and South 9th St. on the outer wall of Pennsylvania Hospital, you will find a horse fountain dedicated to Edward Wetherill for his abolition work during the 1860’s. The Wetherill family went on to become active in the Women’s Suffrage movement in the 1900’s as original members of the New Century Club in Philadelphia.

Pretty amazing stuff, right?

So while we anxiously wait for the farms to become ripe with U-Pick fruit this winter, explore the  incredible historically significant sites and opportunities the Northeast has to offer and learn a little more about our country and honor those that came before us. Interested in making a vacation out of your historic adventure? Take a peek at the 1-2 night packages EscapeMaker has put together for you here!



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