2019 USCTI Mini-Conference to Address US-Bahamian Connection
On November 1 and 2, Hartwick College’s United States Colored Troops Institute for Local History & Family Research (USCTI) will welcome nearly 30 participants for its Student Mini-Conference. The conference will spotlight the U.S. and Bahamian connection to the Underground Railroad, as well as the intersection of domestic and international family research projects.
Dr. Rita Henderson Pratt (pictured), founder of the African Bahamian Museum and Research Centre located in Nassau, Bahamas, will be the featured guest. Among the topics she will discuss is Madison Washington, who revolted and captured the Brig Creole, an American slave ship, and sailed to Nassau in 1841. Washington’s story is one of many Pratt researched and compiled through her Centre which, like the USCTI, is affiliated with the National Park Service’s National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.
“With the recent damage caused by Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas, it is instructive to point out that the Bahamas was a major station of the Underground Railroad,” said Harry Bradshaw Matthews, associate dean, director of the Office of Intercultural Affairs, and founding president of the USCTI.
“We are also very pleased that Dr. Pratt and three of her fellow countrymen will join us as well.”
A “mix and greet” will be held for the Bahamian visitors on Friday, November 1, on the Dewar Balcony, Dewar Union, from 12:30 – 1:30 p.m. Members of the Oneonta community are welcome to attend.
The conference begins for the invited participants that evening with a dinner, at which the presenters will be introduced.
Saturday’s morning session will spotlight presentations of family and historical research conducted by students of the Harriet Tubman Mentoring Project and USCTI members. Matthews will present “The Upper Susquehanna Railroad Freedom Journey,” which will share new information and clarify the contributions of community members in Binghamton, Norwich, Oneonta, and Cooperstown, NY.
Darlene Colon, USCTI vice president and president of the Christiana (PA) Historical Society will discuss the role of her ancestors in the historic Christiana Riot of 1851. Other presentations will focus on student research in areas including St. Lucia; Cape Verde; Grenada; Jamaica; Texas; and Washington, DC.
Students in the beginning stages of their research will discuss the positives and negatives of their projects during the afternoon. Similarly, participants from previous years will return to provide updates to their research, as well as further their research at the Office of Intercultural Affairs.
Saturday evening will feature the official presentation of the USCTI’s American Society of Freedmen Descendants (ASFD) Gold Medal at an awards dinner. Pratt will be honored for preservation of the Bahamas’ link to the Underground Railroad, which includes relocated mix-race Seminole Indians from Florida. Also, three Hartwick student researchers ─ Kiara S. Biroo ’21, Naidalyn G. Fernandez ’22, and Neiva J. Fortes ’22 ─ will be honored for having distinguished themselves through their work.
“Through my research, I got to better understand my family’s background.” said Fortes. “Before I had no specific evidence of my mixed background. It has clarified where I am from, and brought me peace to be able to definitively say I am a mix of people.”
The USCTI was established in 1998 as an outcome of the “United States Colored Troops Symposium of Delaware and Otsego Counties,” held that academic year at Hartwick College and SUNY Oneonta. Since then, the USCTI has emerged as a national and international resource for the study of the 200,000 black soldiers and their 7,000 white officers of the Civil War. The Institute’s focus has since expanded to all military conflicts from the Revolutionary War through the Korean War. In its 21 years, Matthews and the Institute has received numerous regional and national recognitions.