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USCTI Mini-Conference to Salute African American History Museum

October 18, 2016

On October 21 and 22, Hartwick College will welcome nearly 50 participants for the annual United States Colored Troops Institute for Local History and Family Research (USCTI) Student Mini-Conference. The event will honor the National Museum of African American History & Culture (NMAAHC), which opened last month in Washington, DC.

The cornerstone of the conference will again be presentations of research by USCTI members who have documented evidence of a military ancestor who was enlisted during any of the conflicts between the Civil War and the Korean War. Further, these ancestors also have been confirmed to have a connection to the African-American Freedom Journey of the 1870s and 1880s. Representatives of these families will be presented the USCTI’s American Society of Freedmen Descendants (ASFD) Gold Medal.

“I am humbled by the growth of the USCTI Mini-Conference, particularly by the level of primary research that students are presenting about their respective family history, as well as local research,” said Harry Bradshaw Matthews, Hartwick College associate dean, director of the Office of Intercultural Affairs, and founding president of the USCTI. “We are also attracting older participants from multiple states who are serving as role models for our students.”

As part of a challenge by the NMAAHC for local organizations to host related events around the country through the remainder of the year, the USCTI will also feature an exhibit supporting the museum’s “Lift Every Voice” theme. The exhibit will highlight the Freedom Journey of early African Americans, including slaves, along the Susquehanna River, as well as prominent figures like Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman.

Other weekend highlights will include a presentation shedding new light on the local connection to the Underground Railroad.

“We knew that Oneonta and Otsego County were early, active participants in anti-slavery movement,” Matthews said. “But we have now officially identified an escaped slave, Rev. Alexander Hemsley, who made his way via the Underground Railroad to Otsego County in 1837. Prior to this discovery, we only had information of slaves reaching the area through the Underground Railroad in 1860.”

Hemsley would eventually move on to St. Catharines, Ontario, where he joined the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the church that embraced Harriet Tubman.

“This new information also strengthens the local connection with our Harriet Tubman Mentoring Project,” said Matthews of the Hartwick College program that introduces students to the field of family research, as well as the study of the Underground Railroad and the Civil War.

The conference begins Friday evening with a dinner, at which USCTI members, its Alumni Advisory Council, and Harriet Tubman Mentors will be introduced.

Saturday’s morning session will highlight presentations of family and historical research conducted by Harriet Tubman Mentors and USCTI alumni. Also, recipients of the ASFD Gold Medal will be introduced. Family representatives will travel from as far away as Georgia to accept the honor.

Saturday afternoon will be devoted to the “Lift Every Voice” exhibit that will be open for public viewing from 2 – 4 p.m. in the Celebration Room of Shineman Chapel House on the College campus. The new data on Rev. Hemsley will be included, along with other rare items in the privately owned Matthews Collection for the Preservation of African American Freedom Journey Classics.

“The USCTI’s focus on local history and family research has taken a leap forward, with 34 students engaged in personal family research and/or local anti-slavery efforts, and continues to connect with communities near the Upper Susquehanna River,” Matthews said.

Joining the presentations and discussions will be Linda Dorage, a new USCTI member from Decatur, GA, and a descendant of two USCT communities along the Upper Susquehanna River, including Unadilla, NY. She, along with four student researchers, will receive ASFD Gold Medals. The students are Imani Anderson ’17 from Troy, NY; Rachel Casler ’17 from Sherburne, NY; Steven Smith ’19 from New Haven, CT; and SUNY-Oneonta student Jordan Alexus Skeete from Westchester, NY.

The official presentation of the ASFD Gold Medals will take place Saturday evening at the awards dinner. The soldiers being honored this year are Navy Seaman Charles (Charrie) Anderson, World War II; Pvt. Herbert McClary, Quartermaster Corps, World War II; Pvt. Samuel Jacobus, NY Provisional Cavalry, Civil War; Pvt. Clifford Whilby, British West Indies Regiment, World War I; and Pvt. Samuel Jones, 2nd California Regiment, Civil War.

The USCTI was established in 1998 as an outcome of the academic year’s “United States Colored Troops Symposium of Delaware and Otsego Counties” that was held at the 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 the 18 years since he founded it, Matthews and the USCTI have received numerous regional and national recognitions.

For more information on the mini-conference, please visit the USCTI webpage or contact Matthews at 607-431-4428 or matthewsh@hartwick.edu.