Annual Heritage Gathering explores history and legacy of Underground Railroad in Michigan

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Underground Railroad Memorial in Battle Creek, MI. Photo courtesy of MDNR.

From MDNR

In commemoration of International Underground Railroad Month in September, the Michigan Freedom Trail Commission and the Michigan History Center present their 5th annual Heritage Gathering, a series of virtual programs and an in-person conference.

This year’s events are built around the theme, “Underground Railroad Descendants: Sharing the Stories" – and there are endless accounts about our state’s importance to this secret network that aided thousands of people on their journey to freedom. For many, Detroit was the last stop before making their way to a free life in Canada.

"We began the Heritage Gathering back in 2018," said Amanda J. Campbell, chair of the Michigan Freedom Trail Commission. "We strive to bring together people from a variety of disciplines, organizations and walks of life to discuss and explore the history and legacy of the Underground Railroad in Michigan."

The 2022 keystone event is an in-person conference Saturday, Sept. 17, at the Michigan History Center in Lansing.

Sandra Clark, director of the Michigan History Center, noted the diversity of this year’s speakers.

"A Michigan farmer, a Midwest tourism advocate, a U.S. Forest Service professional – each one approaches the topic of the Underground Railroad from a unique perspective," Clark said. "We are especially delighted to welcome nationally recognized author Anna-Lisa Cox, a Michigan native whose research locations for her books included the Archives of Michigan."

In addition to Cox’s presentation on Black farming settlements and their impact on the Underground Railroad, other topics at the Lansing conference include:

  • Treasures at the Archives of Michigan: An introduction to the local history and genealogical collections available, including original source records, published resources and online tools.
  • The Year the Underground Railroad Changed: A discussion on how the Civil War and the Homestead Act changed the context for freedom seekers in Michigan in 1862.
  • Designating September as International Underground Railroad Month – The Ohio Example: A look at Ohio's achievement of permanent legislative designation of September as International Underground Railroad Month, and its significance for tourism.

Cost for the daylong conference is $12 and includes lunch.

Additional programs, resources

Other 2022 Heritage Gathering events include a series of free virtual programs, with each sharing two personal stories from Underground Railroad descendants, including highlights of freedom seekers, the Anishinaabek partnership with freedom seekers, and an African American conductor on the Underground Railroad.

Upcoming virtual programs are set for 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 8 and 22.

All 2022 Heritage Gathering programming information, including registration links, is available on the Michigan History Center website. Separate registration is required for each event. All virtual programs will be recorded and made available for viewing later this fall.

The Michigan Freedom Trail Commission preserves, protects and promotes the rich legacy of the Underground Railroad and the antislavery movement in Michigan. Members are appointed by the governor. Commission-member, meeting-schedule and other information is available at Michigan.gov/FreedomTrail.

An agency of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the Michigan History Center fosters curiosity, enjoyment and inspiration rooted in Michigan’s stories. The Michigan History Center offers 12 museums and historic sites across the state, including eight in state parks; the Archives of Michigan; Michigan Historical Markers; heritage trails; the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve, and two web portals. Learn more at Michigan.gov/MHC.

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