Keynote Speaker: Dr. Timothy Walker

Timothy D. Walker (B.A., Hiram College, 1986; M.A., Ph.D., Boston University, 2001) is Professor of History at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, where he serves on the Executive Board of the Center for Portuguese Studies and Culture.  He is a scholar of maritime history, colonial overseas expansion, and trans-oceanic slave trading, and is an Affiliated Researcher of the Centro de História d’Aquém e d’Além-Mar (CHAM); Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal.  Walker was a visiting professor at the Universidade Aberta in Lisbon (1994-2003) and at Brown University (2010).  He is the recipient of a Fulbright dissertation fellowship to Portugal (1996-1997), a doctoral research fellowship from the Portuguese Camões Institute (1995-1996), and a NEH-funded American Institute for Indian Studies Professional Development Grant for post-doctoral work in Goa, India (2000-2002). Walker has also been named a fellow of the Portuguese Orient Foundation (Fundação Oriente), the Luso-American Development Foundation (2003 & 2008), and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (2010-2011).  In 2018, Walker was appointed a Guest Investigator of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, drawing historic climate data from archived whaling logbooks, Portuguese colonial, and other maritime documentation. He has taught maritime history aboard numerous traditionally-rigged sailing vessels, is a contributing faculty member of the Munson Institute of Maritime Studies, and Director of the NEH “Landmarks in American History” workshops series, titled “Sailing to Freedom: New Bedford and the Underground Railroad,” (2011–2022).

Title:  “Sailing to Freedom: Maritime Dimensions of the Underground Railroad”

Description:   Dr. Walker’s “Sailing to Freedom” presentation will highlight little-known stories and describe the less-understood maritime side of the Underground Railroad, including the impact of African Americans’ paid and unpaid waterfront labor. This talk will reconsider and contextualize how escapes were managed along the East Coast, moving from the Carolinas, Virginia, and Maryland to safe harbor in northern cities such as Philadelphia, New York, New Bedford, and Boston.  While scholarship on the Underground Railroad has focused almost exclusively on overland escape routes from the antebellum South, this new research expands our understanding of how freedom was achieved by sea and what the journey looked like for many African Americans.

Chair: Dr. David Dennard

Session 1: The First Underground Railroad in North America

Dr. Maria Hammack

María Esther Hammack is a Barra Postdoctoral Fellow at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. She is a Mexican scholar and public historian whose work centers and connects through a gender lens, the histories of liberation and abolition in North America and the Black Diaspora in Mexico, as well as reconsiders the Underground Railroad to recover hidden actors and their histories. She is currently revising her first monograph, Channels of Liberation: Black Freedom Across the US-Mexican Global South, a work that examines & recovers the transnational experiences of Black Americans, situated as freedom fighters, who left the United States to claim liberation in Mexican spaces.

Title: To Make Her Way To Mexico: Crafting Journeys to Freedom South of Slavery”

Description: This talk will highlight under told journeys and experiences of Black Americans who left the United States for Mexico to claim freedom before US Emancipation. It will offer a reconceptualization of Black liberation and the Underground Railroad in North America. It will also highlight the ways in which the networks to freedom towards Mexico materialized, as well as the leading figures crafting these freedom journeys to southern geographies.

Mrs. Leesa Jones

Mrs. Leesa Jones is retired preschool teacher of 32 years. She is co-founder of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum in Washington, NC, established in 2016, with her husband Milton Jones and dear friend Rebecca Clark.  With the assistance and direction of the Phoenix Historical Society of Tarboro, North Carolina, Leesa helped the City of Washington receive a designation from the National Park Service’s  “Underground Network To Freedom Program,” in 2014.  The certification highlights a three-mile section of the Pamlico-Tar River as a National Park Service Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Site.  The museum received the designation as a National Park Service Underground Railroad Network To Freedom Facility. It is the only museum in North Carolina that is totally dedicated to the underground railroad; focusing on what it was, why it was needed, how it operated in eastern North Carolina, and the success of it.  Leesa sits on the boards of several historical organizations in North Carolina and her passion is to enable the histories of all people to be celebrated.

Title: “Songs and Stories About Freedom Seeking on Washington’s Underground Railroad”

Description: The presentation will feature songs, coded information, and other ways of communicating how to gain freedom and stay safe on the local underground railroad network.  It will also highlight how and why the network worked.

Chair: Dr. Freddie Parker

Session 2: The Second and Last Underground Railroad, 1800-1865

Dr. Adrienne Israel

Dr. Adrienne Israel retired in 2019, after teaching African History and African American History at Guilford College, where she also served for over a decade as Vice President and Academic Dean. Her published scholarship includes articles about Ghanaian veterans of the Second World War, Ghanaian journalism during the colonial era, a biography of Amanda Berry Smith, a 19th century Methodist revival leader, and current research about the Underground Railroad in Piedmont, North Carolina.  Dr. Israel earned a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in African Studies from Howard University, and a doctorate in History from the Johns Hopkins University. Before embarking on an academic career, she worked as a reporter for the Washington Post, and as a reporter and Acting City Editor for Afro-American newspapers in Washington, DC, and Baltimore, MD. She is a native of Massillon, Ohio, and member of Wells Memorial Church of God in Christ, in Greensboro, NC.

Title: “Free Black Agents on the Underground Railroad in Piedmont North Carolina”

Description: The presentation will describe how free black people in the North Carolina Piedmont helped fugitives from slavery escape to the North. It will also discuss how and why the Piedmont became a temporary home for large numbers of free African Americans during the three and half decades before the Civil War.

Dr. Cassandra Newby-Alexander

Dr. Cassandra Newby-Alexander is the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, professor of history, and emeritus director of the Joseph Jenkins Roberts Center for African Diaspora Studies at Norfolk State University. Her book publications include Virginia Waterways and the Underground Railroad (2017), An African American History of the Civil War in Hampton Roads (2010), co-authored Black America Series: Portsmouth (2003), Hampton Roads: Remembering Our Schools (2009), and co-edited Voices from within the Veil: African Americans and the Experience of Democracy (2008). Dr. Newby-Alexander has appeared on a number of national programs and documentaries including PBS’s Many Rivers to Cross, the History Channel’s Race, Slavery and the Civil War, and C-SPAN’s broadcasts on history.

Title:Escapes from “Worthless Sots”:  Agency and Identity Among Freedom Seekers in 19th Century Virginia”

Description: The Underground Railroad occupies a romantic place in America’s imagination because it is rife with intrigue, betrayal, and danger, Considered the center of the southern Underground Railroad network, Hampton Roads had a relatively successful yet locally autonomous underground network that worked in concert with northern operations to transport fugitives via steamships, schooners, and other coastal vessels to freedom. Investigating the activities of the Underground Railroad reveals not only how people escaped, but how many of these accounts reveal the human side of those who risked everything for freedom, often at a cruel cost.

Chair: Mrs. Monica Minus

Session 3: Legacies of America’s Underground Railroads

Dr. Tony Frazier

Dr. Tony Frazier is currently Associate Professor at North Carolina Central University. Dr. Tony Frazier presently is a National Humanities Center Fellow for the 2021-2022 academic year. His research interests cover the social and legal history of blacks in eighteenth-century Great Britain, Atlantic slavery and emancipation, and African American History. He is currently completing a manuscript titled Slaves Without Wages: Runaway Black Slaves and Servants in Eighteenth-Century London under contract with Peter Lang Press Oxford. Dr. Frazier teaches courses in British History, African American History, African Diaspora, early Modern European History, Modern European History, and World History. Professor Frazier was a Duke University Mellon Foundation-Franklin Humanities Institute Digital Humanities Initiative Fellow for the 2017-2018 academic year. In 2021, Dr. Frazier received a fellowship as a Summer Fellow for “New Storytellers “at The Research Institute Digital Ethnic Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Title: “Digital Steps: Mapping the Underground Railroad”

Description: This digital mapping project illuminates the multiple routes taken by Black Americans seeking freedom. This will enable a different imagining of the path toward freedom.

Dr. Bryan Robinson

Dr. Brian A. Robinson is a historian whose research focuses on identity and culture, education, and power relations. His research interests are African American History, American Slavery, History Educational Ideas, and Digital History. His current research focus is on the Ideas of Black Nationalism, the Meaning of African American Life and History, and African American History Resource Making and Data Curation. He currently serves as a CLIR Fellow of African American Studies in Data Curation at UNC-Greensboro.

Title:  “No Longer Yours: Aspects of Slavery and Freedom Seeking”

Description: Exploring the project, “No Longer Yours: Aspects of Slavery and Freedom Seeking,” and discussing the importance of maintaining accessible and affordable record(s) of the African American Experience.