When the Doors Close

By Paul Stewart, URHPCR Co-Founder

Sanctuary. Shelter. Welcome. These concepts are built into the very walls of the Harriet and Stephen Myers Historic Residence. From its days as a meeting place for Albany’s Vigilance Committee in the 19th century, the house on Lumber (now Livingston) Street has been a place to connect with the kindness of strangers, to receive a helping hand, and the resources to attain freedom. And now we must close our doors. Not forever, thankfully, but still – it hurts.

Covid19 – anyone can carry it. It’s life-threatening for many. Evading it forces us to distance ourselves from each other, to eschew honest work, restaurants, movies, sporting events, and gatherings of any kind. This distancing is meant to help slow the spread of the virus, but it seems there is no clear sanctuary from its spread. 

And here we are in a Sanctuary City – one that offers fair justice to immigrants with the ideals of protection and welcome to people who have lost their homes due to war, terror or economic hardship. Now they find themselves in our city at a time when we are seeking sanctuary ourselves.

Our historic site, the Stephen and Harriet Myers Residence Historic Site, holds up sanctuary as something to be honored. But our museum will be closed for at least two weeks so that our staff, volunteers and visitors can stay safe in the face of the threat of Covid19. 

Perhaps this is the lesson: sanctuary is found among people where there is caring and love and peace of circumstances. It is not found in a building unless those elements are present. In this time of crisis, just as in Harriet and Stephen’s time, what we need most is caring relationships. Without them, we are just an empty building.

Here is another opportunity to empathize with our ancestors. While we know how the history of enslavement in America played out, they carried on without that assurance. We are all faced with considerable uncertainty now. We do not really know how long this crisis will last.  Optimists think things will be back to “normal” in just a couple of weeks. Some speculate the crisis will last 45 days, and some say we will have 18 months of shortages and challenges or even more. 

While we don’t know what the future holds, we will continue to do our work. We’ll be sharing resources for people who are hurting in our community, continuing to tell the true story of our nation’s history, and we’ll be continuing to strengthen and build our organization so that we are ready to open our doors again as soon as we can.

Our historic site celebrates the people who escaped the de-humanizing horrors of enslavement and sought a safe place to find rest and refreshment in a space where love, care and peace prevailed. Let us continue to be a beacon of the sanctuary we all seek even now.