I remember reading an article a very long time ago by Alex Haley in which he recounted his experience in retracing the Middle Passage of his African ancestor. In that piece Haley mentioned lying in the hold of the ship in which he was traveling across the Atlantic to re-live, to the extent he could, the crossing. That experience was all the more poignant for Haley because he had served in the U.S. Coast Guard for twenty years and knew the sea. For the past decade and a half museum professional Joseph McGill has been on a similar mission; since 1999 he has traveled to various sites across the country and spent the night trying to re-live the experiences of the slaves who once lived there. This summer he is in New York State.
New York is rich in abolitionist and Underground Railroad history. Harriet Tubman, Gerrit Smith, and Sojourner Truth are just a few of the people who lived at least part of their lives in New York. Slavery existed in the Empire State until 1827. Sojourner Truth was born into bondage here in 1797. Today’s New York Times has more on Mr. McGill and his project. The New-York Historical Society had an outstanding exhibit on slavery in New York a few years ago. Jennifer Schuessler’s article fills in even more of the blanks on this still relatively unknown story.
(image/Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library. “I sell the shadow to support the substance, Sojourner Truth.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1864. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e1-cde8-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99)