Region Becomes Part of National Wave to “Tell Our Story” With The Grand Opening of Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center
The grand opening of the much anticipated Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center happened Friday, May 4 and was the area’s most monumental event this year . It also holds national significance, as it becomes part of numerous African American museums and centers dedicated to telling “our story” (history).
“The beauty of the Center is that it highlights the freedom seeker as the central narrative of the Underground Railroad…..and Black abolitionists and this centers around the role that the Cataract House waiters played,” Saladin Allah told The Challenger. “So we actually have the documentation and we chronicled their role in the Underground Railroad as double agents – in the daytime they provided professional service – but under the cover of darkness ran one of the most significant aspects of the Underground Railroad.” Allah, an Experience Center Specialist at the Center, gives guided tours.“I’m glad to be involved because I can actually share my family story,” he added. He is the great, great, great grandson of Josiah Henson, whose life story in part, was the basis for Harriett Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Most people see the term “Uncle Tom” as a negative, he continued, “but Josiah was anything but that!” he said.
The positive thing about the project, added Allah, is that “It focuses on the freedom seekers.” The Heritage Center is an experiential museum that reveals authentic stories of Underground Railroad freedom seekers and abolitionists in Niagara Falls, that inspire visitors to recognize modern injustices that stem from slavery and to take action toward an equitable society.
The Heritage Center is a project of the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Commission, in cooperation with the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area, a program of the National Park Service. It is located in the former 1863 U.S. Custom House attached to the new Niagara Falls Amtrak Station.
“As the first new cultural attraction in the City of Niagara Falls in over 35 years, opening the Underground Railroad Heritage Center is an incredibly significant event, both to the people of Niagara Falls, and throughout the world.” – Bill Bradberry, President and Chair, Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Commission.
The Heritage Center’s permanent exhibition, One More River to Cross, will feature the rich storiesof the Underground Railroad in Niagara Falls, the crucial role played by its location and geography, and the actions of its residents – particularly its African American residents. The Heritage Center’s immersive exhibits and cutting-edge interpretation affirmatively align with the principles of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, whose mission is to connect the past to modern social justice issues – “to turn memory to action.”
Through painstaking research, the exhibition presents engaging digital media, graphics, scenic built environments and facilitated dialogic programming as part of the visitor experience. Scenic exhibit components include a recreation of the Cataract House – a premier international hotel that employed an entirely African American wait staff, who helped uncounted numbers of freedom seekers to freedom in Canada, just across the Niagara River. Also included is a recreation of the International Suspension Bridge, built in 1848, and rebuilt in 1855 to incorporate rail traffic, where Harriet Tubman and other
freedom seekers crossed the imaginary line from slavery to freedom. Stories are brought to life with powerful images by award winning illustrator and fine artist E.B. Lewis and voice-overs by Emmy Award winning actor Keith David. “From the very beginning, the objective for the Heritage Center was to create an immersive experience that brings to life the stories of ordinary individuals who fought for freedom.” – Ally Spongr, Director and Curator, Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center
The new Heritage Center focuses on stories of courageous self-emancipation by freedom seekers. Throughout the exhibition visitors will experience these stories and hear from individuals past and present with the hope that these stories and connections will allow for deeper engagement, consideration of new or different perspectives, and motivation to action.
This project is led by the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Commission, chaired by Bill Bradberry, directed and curated by Ally Spongr, and based on research by lead historian Dr. Judith Wellman. The Heritage Center’s design-build teams include Studio Tectonic of Boulder, Colorado, Richard Lewis Media Group of Boston, Massachusetts, and Universal Services Associates, Inc., of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The address to the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center is 825 Depot Ave. Niagara Falls NY 14305. General Admission is $10 Discounted Admission for Students w/ID, Elders 62+, Military, Youth 6-12, Children under 5 are FREE CENTER HOURS : Monday – Closed Tuesday 10AM – 6PM Wednesday 10AM – 6PM Thursday 10AM – 8PM Friday 10AM – 6PM Saturday 10AM – 6PM Sunday 10AM – 4PM Admission Prices: General Adult: $10 / Student 13+ and college w/ID: $8 / Youth 6 – 12: $6 / Youth 5 and under: free / Group Rates Available. Neighborhood membership card will be available for local residents