AL-AfricaAmer-L ArchivesArchiver > AL-AfricaAmer > 1999-05 > 0927592436
From: ladyd <>
Subject: Fw: Reflections on the West Virginia Underground Railroad Summit
Date: Mon, 24 May 1999 20:33:56 -0400
----- Original Message -----
From: Bennie J McRae Jr. <>
Sent: Monday, May 24, 1999 6:31 PM
Subject: Reflections on the West Virginia Underground Railroad Summit
> Forwarded at the request of Ms. Cathy Nelson. If you respond, please
> forward to mailto:> with a copy to
> Reflections on the West Virginia Underground Railroad Summit
> by Cathy D. Nelson
> On May 15th, I had the pleasure and honor of speaking at the 1st Annual
> West Virginia Underground Railroad Summit held at the Independence Hall
> Museum, Wheeling. This event was sponsored by the West Virginia
> Independence Hall, Wheeling Area Historical Society, West Virginia
> Independence Hall Foundation and the Wheeling National Heritage Area
> Corporation. The event's coordinator was Ms. Margaret (Peg) Brennen. Many
> of you know Peg, as she has attended every Ohio Summit since the
> This event has been a long time coming for West Virginia, and Peg's
> determination, energy and beautiful spirit brought about a very successful
> day. There were a number of outstanding speakers and I'd like to share
> you who they were.
> After "welcomes" from the Wheeling area dignitaries, including very moving
> remarks from the Mayor, the first speaker was Mr. Keith Everett, Northeast
> Region Superintendent, National Park Service. Now I must admit when I
> that a Park Service official was going to be there, I had very mixed
> feelings - "none of them good!" I thought he'd just fill our ears with
> government rhetoric. Boy, was I ever wrong. Keith was absolutely
> delightful. He was down-to-earth, straight-forward & honest...but more
> importantly, I think he really listened to what the people had to say
> how this history should be told and preserved. I'm sure he realizes his
> role in all of this is a daunting one, but with the help of his colleague
> Tara Morrison (a full time UGRR program coordinator) they both will be
> partners to this region, as it begins to develop its UGRR program.
> I was the second speaker and I basically gave an overview of how we got
> started, where we are and where we're headed. I shared slides of some of
> our sites, our new color brochure & marker design. I closed with the
> importance of keeping this story grounded in the spirit of the people.
> The third speaker was the esteemed Dr. Ancella Bickley from Charleston, W.
> VA. I have heard so much about this extraordinary lady over the years, but
> hadn't met her until that day. What a lovely person, so regal and
> Her beautiful smile lit up every room in the Hall. She truly set the tone
> for the day with her message of the need to just get the story...all of
> stories! Dr. Bickley is a true icon of West Virginia history.
> After lunch, the fourth speaker was Diane Bell, Director of the African
> American Jubilee. She gave a very interesting talk on the life and times
> a runaway slave woman named Lucy Bagby. She gave accounts of her
> enslavement as well as ultimately free life.
> Sherry Sawchuk, Mt. Pleasant Historical Society gave an informative
> on the Role of Quakers in the UGRR. As you may know, The Mt. Pleasant area
> was very active in this movement. In fact the town was often referred to
> a 'feeding station' on the UGRR. If you remember, Mt. Pleasant was one of
> the first places I visited in my early research (see my Forward in 'Bonnie
> Belmont'). At that time very few, if any people had ever heard of the
> including myself. It held then and still does a very special place in my
> The fifth speaker was Nancy McCombe from Washington County, Pennsylvania.
> She gave a fascinating account of a Dr. F. Julius LeMoyne. This man was a
> very active agent on the UGRR in Western Pennsylvania and his house is a
> National Historic Landmark. She read a letter from a slave named Nelson
> Talbott Gant written to Dr. LeMoyne. I shared with her my delight at
> hearing this letter because Nelson T. Gant finally ended up in Putnam
> some of the local abolitionists helped him to purchase his wife. Gant's
> house is currently a restaurant/bar, but a Gant descendant is researching
> and trying to acquire the property.
> The final speaker was our John Mattox from Flushing, Ohio. John is one of
> my OURA coordinators in the Ohio Valley. He gave a powerful message of how
> we must not be left out of telling this important story. He stressed to
> keep this history centered in the spirit of the people and not to
> commercialize it. (I definitely agree with that). He told a wonderful
> African folk tale and did you know that John could sing? He sang "Follow
> the Drinking Gourd." He has a beautiful voice!!
> The day was concluded with John and Peg leading us down the street to the
> location of former slave auction black. John took us back in time to 1840,
> where he rang the bell (ringing the bell would let the people know that
> auction was about to begin) and read an account of the purchase of a slave
> woman named, Matilda by a Ouaker man, only to set her free. Pearl Shelton
> from Hopedale poured libations, as we called out the names of our
> ancestors. We closed with the singing of spirituals.
> What a wonderful, wonderful experience this all was!! Even my daughter,
> Amanda commented on the way home how much she'd enjoyed it and how many
> nice people she'd met. As I drove back to Columbus. I smiled knowing the
> ancestors were
> pleased at what they had seen and heard.
> We are now busy planning our 4th Annual UGRR Summit in Ohio. I hope our
> event will be equally as successful.