Sunday, July 10, 2011

Buffalo - Remembering the Underground Railroad

Broderick Park is located on Squaw Island, (Buffalo), in the Niagara River,
and overlooks the Canadian border.

The park is of Historical significance to the Underground Railroad.

The ultimate destination haven for many escaping slavery was Canada, Fort Erie, just over the river, was a key entry point. The land that the Park is on was the last stop on the Underground Railroad before the enslaved people crossed the Niagara River into Canada.

This area is historically important in that it served as a transit area for African-Americans heading for the border, on the opposite side of the Niagara River. These activities were before the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, which to some measure brought about the 'nationalizing' of some of the consequences of the slavery practiced in the Southern states, and increased flow of African-Americans travelers seeking liberty in Canada. Buffalo's own Millard Fillmore who, as President of the United States, signed this measure into law.

Yesterday 150 members of St Paul Community Baptist Church of East Brooklyn, NY came to Broderick Park in Buffalo for a MAAFA Healing Ceremony.

The purpose of the MAAFA Commemoration is a spiritual experience aimed at healing our collective memories and building community reconciliation. The residuals of enslavement and racism are a part of our historical landscape. The MAAFA SUITE…A Healing Journey®, a powerful psychodrama, is the beginning of a healing and educational process related to an overlooked chapter of history that has affected people of all races and cultures, and a means of increasing our awareness of and efforts to undo institutionalized racism.

A healing service was held to remember the ancestors and to honor their memory.
MAAFA (pronounced MAH-AH-FAH) is a Kiswahili word that means great calamity, catastrophe, tragedy or disaster. It was introduced into contemporary African American scholarship by Dr. Marimba Ani to redefine the period in world history formerly identified as the Middle Passage or Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. The Commemoration of The MAAFA involves memorializing and honoring the millions of Africans lost in the horror of this nightmare.

The location is situated within easy view of the Peace Bridge, which links the State of New York with the Canadian Province of Ontario at Fort Erie. In former days the transport was small private boats provided by many who put their own lives at risk in order to help Harriet Tubman who led the runaways into Canada.

“Moses” is coming! You’ve heard the stories about her. Harriet Tubman, a former slave who ran away from a nearby plantation in 1849 but returns to rescue others. Guided by her “visions,” she never lost a passenger. Even if Moses can’t fit you into her next group, she’ll tell you how to follow the North Star to freedom in Canada.

It took courage, luck, help, and incredible stamina. Once in Canada, they could finally breathe free. Not only did the government not return you to slavery in the United States, but you could vote and even own land. No wonder thousands had already run away to settle here. There were still challenges: finding a home, making a living, adjusting to a new place.

The dancers sing and tell the story to help people understand the nature of the oppression inflicted on generations of Africans in America.

The men, women and children perform traditional joyful dances from Africa


Three of the 35 Underground Railroad sites are in Western New York. They are the Michigan Street Baptist Church in Buffalo, a legendary Underground Railroad station; Murphy Orchards in Burt, where, for more than 20 years, the McClew family sheltered escaped slaves before moving them to the next station; and the Root House in Pekin, home of abolitionist Thomas Root, which was one of the last stops on the railroad. From here, in the 1850s, formerly enslaved people were transported to the Canadian border hidden in farm wagons full of produce.

The Underground Railroad, largely forgotten and ignored by history, has resurfaced in the past decade with the increased interest in heritage tourism. The far-flung Underground Railroad was a unique cooperative effort among blacks, whites and Native Americans; males and females; rich and poor; Northerners and Southerners.

If you are interested in learning more about the Underground Railroad in the Buffalo area there are tours that include the Michigan Street Baptist Church in Buffalo; the Thomas Root Home, a major stop on the Underground Railroad; and the Erie Canal, which played an important part of the road in New York.


Thank you to the visitors from St. Paul Community Baptist Church in East Brooklyn NY who came to Buffalo to give honor to the ancestors who travelled these paths. Your service was beautiful and a moving experience for those who were able to watch.


Ashanta said...

Thank you for sharing, Aunt Lesley! This is amazing and I am glad you got to be a part of it :)

peacesojourner said...

I was not part of the ritual but I was happy to be a spectator and I certainly was praying during the spiritual ceremony. A beautiful experience.

Karima said...

As always, Lesley, your text and photos tell the story beautifully. Your work is wonderful. Interestingly enough, every time the Buffalo community celebrates MAAFA, it always rains. It's a cleansing rain that seems to wash away all of our trials and fears. In 2010, when the rain stopped, there was a huge, bright double rainbow in the sky that seemed to be an added blessing......

peacesojourner said...

Thank you for your kind words Karima. I have seen a double rainbow spanning over the Peace Bridge on two occasions and I agree with you it is a beautiful experience.