Festival, Symposium to Commemorate Underground Railroad Ties

June 29, 2011

USCTI logoHartwick College will play a key role in an upcoming series of events commemorating the Oneonta area's historic ties to the Underground Railroad.

Beginning the weekend of September 10 with Oneonta's first Flight to Freedom Festival, the events will honor the region's connections to the Underground Railroad. The festival will commemorate "Mother Seminole," whose 1860 flight to freedom with her six children and half-sister from Virginia to Oneonta was recently uncovered by Hartwick's Associate Dean and Director of U.S. Pluralism Programs Harry Bradshaw Matthews. His discovery of Mother Seminole's documentation in SUNY Oneonta's James M. Milne Library sparked the formation of the festival.

"It is heartwarming to know that local citizens risked their lives to help an escaped family reach freedom from slavery," Matthews said. "I personally am humbled when thinking about the enormous amount of support I received from local organizations and the colleges over the past 13 years in an effort to document such an important part of the local history."

Flight to Freedom also will serve as the springboard for Diverse Voices and Faces of the Civil War, Hartwick's 2011-12 Civil War symposium, which will take place September through April with exhibits; presentations; trips; grave-site salutes to Civil War soldiers; and musical performance in Oneonta, Delhi, Binghamton, and Johnson City. As part of the symposium, Hartwick will host the USCTI & American Society of Freedmen Descendants Mini-Conference November 4-6. Northeast Regional Coordinator of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Sheri Jackson is expected to visit the College to take part in opening-day events.

As part of the symposium, Hartwick and the College's United States Colored Troops Institute also will present "Personal Hartwick Family Stories: Our Civil War Ancestors," an exhibit of personal items that connects families' histories to the Civil War era. 

The announcement of the festival and symposium coincides with the USCTI's recent admission as a facility of the National Park Service's National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. The recognition acknowledges the institute's association with the Underground Railroad story.

Hartwick students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends are invited to submit items or documents for the exhibit. The USCTI is offering research assistance to those seeking to confirm the authenticity of documents or collectibles. Items of particular interest include genealogical and military pension records, property deeds, obituaries, military muster reports, grave-site documents, photographs, and newspaper clippings. To submit items by August 1, contact Matthews at A final schedule of symposium events also will be announced by August 1.

Organizations wishing to co-sponsor the festival should contact Matthews at by July 15.

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Hartwick College is a private liberal arts and sciences college of 1,480 students, located in Oneonta, NY, in the northern foothills of the Catskill Mountains. Hartwick's expansive curriculum emphasizes a uniquely experiential approach to the liberal arts. Through personalized teaching, collaborative research, a unique January Term, a wide range of internships, and vast study-abroad opportunities, Hartwick ensures that students are prepared for the world ahead. A Three-Year Bachelor's Degree Program and strong financial aid and scholarship offerings keep a Hartwick education affordable.

Contact: Jen Moritz
Phone: 607-431-4038