Interpretive Center Description
While Underground Railroad Education Center (UREC) focuses on the Underground Railroad period, this period reaches back to the earliest times of African people in this country and reaches forward, being a forerunner of later events while being the first civil rights movement in the United States.
This reinterpretation, which grew out of the seminal research of its cofounders and places the Underground Railroad movement in a prominent position in the American narrative, focuses on the activism of local Black abolitionists in their national and international context and has been shared with the general public since 2003 via annual conferences, workshops, public presentations, walking tours, tour experiences at The Myers Residence, gardens on The Stephen and Harriet Myers Residence Campus, Young Abolitionist Leadership Institute, July 4th Oration, Juneteenth, a newsletter, newspaper articles, television news features, radio interviews, website and social media.
The voices and experiences of local Black activists, placed in their national and international context, offers an empowering understanding of the role of Black abolitionists and freedom seekers proactively pursuing their right to “… life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (Preamble, Declaration of Independence). Through this reinterpretation Underground Railroad Education Center reveals the diversity and inclusivity of the American experience as exemplified in New York State.
In order for UREC to continue to expand its outreach and share this empowering reinterpretation of underground railroad history and its relevance for us today, UREC needs a facility fully dedicated to programs, events, exhibits, video documentary production and viewing, research, workforce development, children’s engagement, and the arts. This facility would be the Interpretive Center of Underground Railroad Education Center. Currently the only facility available to UREC is The Stephen and Harriet Myers Residence which was discovered by its co-founders and which is an award winning, documented Underground Railroad site that is, among other affiliations, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, an invited member of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, an accepted member of the National Park Service Network to Freedom, and an accepted member of the African American Civil Rights Network, and the only site in New York State that is open to the public that interprets this history from the perspective of a man born enslaved in New York State.
Underground Railroad Education Center’s goals for the Interpretive Center include (1) providing a more effective space for the range of programming UREC provides, (2) expanding UREC’s capabilities with respect to effective programming by providing a commercial kitchen, expanded storage space for artifacts and collections, a children’s center for engaging young attendees at UREC programs, larger space for indoor programs, exhibits and more, (3) creating a facility that is environmentally friendly, (4) more effective use of the properties UREC owns to ignite excitement about the Underground Railroad story and its contemporary relevance, and provide an uplift to the community in which UREC finds itself, thus empowering people to be agents of change for an equitable and just society, (5) creating local jobs and job development experiences for area residents, and (6) expanding UREC’s impact as a community anchor and tourist destination.
Beyond the history and its contemporary relevance, the Interpretive Center, which will be located on Livingston Avenue in Albany’s Arbor Hill neighborhood, a community that has suffered extensively from the challenges posed by redlining and disinvestment, both of which are part of the legacy of the institution of enslavement, will provide job and workforce development opportunities for community residents, it will be an attraction in its own right drawing local, statewide, national and international visitors, it will host programs and events that align with Governor Hochul’s Black Travel Initiative, and it will be a community anchor in conjunction with The Stephen and Harriet Myers Residence.
Structurally the Interpretive Center will consist of an outside patio space, off-street parking, archival and costume storage, library, laundry, janitorial and mechanical and electrical rooms, children’s room, exhibit and event space, retail, café and commercial kitchen, conference room, four offices, two studio apartments, and media and screening rooms. One of the studio apartments will be available as affordable housing to a security and grounds employee of Underground Railroad Education Center. The other apartment will be made available to visiting professors and artists. The Center will contain a geothermal infrastructure and be designed according to Living Building Challenge of Sustainability standards for green buildings which focuses on a regenerative built environment, thereby aligning with and meeting the zero-greenhouse gas emission standards set by New York State’s Gov. Hochul. The building will incorporate surrounding green spaces which will be deliberately designed to enhance health benefits in the neighborhood. Construction documents are expected to be completed and go out to bid in December 2023, with building construction commencing May 2024 and concluding May 2025.
Just as our communal ancestors worked for justice, Underground Railroad Education Center carries on in their footsteps being committed to using what it has for the empowerment of all people to be agents of change toward an equitable and just society. The Interpretive Center’s ability to effect such change is only limited by our imaginations as we learn the past, work in the present, and work together to create a more just future.
Ways You Can Support the Interpretive Center
Donations can also be made by check and made out and mailed with one of the above forms to Underground Railroad Education Center – 194 Livingston Avenue – Albany, NY 12210 – please write Interpretive Center on the memo line.