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Heritage Gathering Conference and Programs

Since 2018, the Michigan Freedom Trail Commission and the Michigan History Center have marked September, International Underground Railroad Month, with programs that bring together people from a variety of disciplines, industries, organizations and walks of life to discuss and explore the history and legacy of the Underground Railroad in Michigan.

2023 Heritage Gathering

Save the date! The in-person conference is scheduled for Sept. 30 at the Michigan History Center in Lansing. More information to come on this and other programs offered as part of Heritage Gathering in September.

Past Heritage Gathering Programs and Presentations

2022 Heritage Gathering - Underground Railroad Descendants: Sharing the Stories

Virtual Programs

  • September 1, 7 p.m.
    We will hear two amazing stories from around the state. First, Marcia Blacklidge speaks about the Anishinaabek partnership with freedom seekers. Then, learn the story of Asher Array from descendants Linda Williams-Bowie and Leslie Jackson.
  • September 8, 7 p.m.
    This session features two Michigan freedom seeking stories. The first highlights the Hamer family as presented by Donald Drife with support of LaKeesha Morrison and Robert Muller. In the second, Charles Cross shares a uniquely Michigan story.
  • September 22, 7 p.m.

    Be sure to attend this event to hear from two descendants with different accounts of their ancestor. As a descendant of William Webb, Leslie Williams shares the impact of his life, while James Faris presents his unique ancestral connection.

Heritage Gathering Conference

The keystone event of the Heritage Gathering. Cost is $12 and includes lunch.

  • September 17, 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
    Michigan History Center, Lansing
    The conference highlights important events and people in the Underground Railroad movement. It features national speakers, like author Anna-Lisa Cox; and discussions on black farming settlements, the significance of 1862, Underground Railroad tourism, and researching at the Michigan History Center's Archives of Michigan. See the 2022 Heritage Gathering conference agenda.

September/October 2021

The Michigan Freedom Trail Commission and the Michigan History Center, in partnership with the University of Michigan's Department of History and William L. Clements Library, held the fourth annual gathering for individuals, organizations and communities interested in our statewide Underground Railroad heritage in September and October 2021.

Visit The 1847 Michigan Slave Rescues Story Map, a project developed by Bridget Stryker in partnership with National Park Service Network to Freedom, Michigan Freedom Trail Commission and the Boone County (Ky.) Public Library. The map highlights the stories of four of the fifteen slave rescues documented in 1847 and represents years of work by researchers combing meticulously through primary sources and first-person narratives.

Below are program descriptions and links to watch recordings of the weekly virtual presentations that were offered in September 2021 in commemoration of International Underground Railroad Month.

  • Introduction and Background to 1847 Michigan Slave Rescues
    Deanda Johnson, Midwest Regional Coordinator of the Network to Freedom of the National Park Service, and Bridget Stryker and staff of the Boone County (Ky.) Library, introduced and provided background to the four Michigan slave rescues in 1847 that grabbed national attention and angered slaveholders and their political allies in the upper South. Kentucky and Missouri slaveholders had become increasingly concerned about the freedom seekers fleeing to Michigan and decided to take action by going there and reclaiming their human property.
  • Crosswhite Case and Robert Cromwell
    Dr. Debian Marty discussed the Crosswhite rescue in Marshall and Dr. Roy E. Finkenbine discussed the Robert Cromwell rescue in Detroit. Marty is Professor Emerita of Humanities and Communication at California State University, Monterey Bay. Finkenbine is Professor of History and Director of the Black Abolitionist Archive at the University of Detroit Mercy. Both were contributors to "A Fluid Frontier: Slavery, Resistance, and the Underground Railroad in the Detroit River Borderland."
  • Kentucky Raid and John Felix White
    Veta Smith Tucker discussed the Kentucky Raid in Cass County and Carol Mull discussed the John Felix White rescue at the convergence of Lenawee, Jackson and Washtenaw counties. Tucker is retired Professor of English and African American Studies and Director of the Kutsche Office of Local History at Grand Valley State University, the author of "The Kentucky Raid: A Twenty-First Century History" and co-editor of "A Fluid Frontier." Mull is the author of "The Underground Railroad in Michigan."
  • The impact of the 1847 Michigan slave rescues and the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850
    Richard Blackett discussed how the four Michigan slave rescues in 1847 prompted slaveholders and their political allies in Kentucky and Missouri to push for the harsh Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Blackett is the Andrew Jackson Professor Emeritus of History at Vanderbilt University and the author of "The Captive's Quest for Freedom: Fugitive Slaves, the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, and the Politics of Slavery."

The following sessions were recorded at the annual day-long conference program held October 2, 2021, at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Updated 02/24/2023