The Capital Region has a direct connection to the Underground Railroad that was nearly lost to time. What does it look like? When Fr. Ken couldn't take his students there, he brought the railroad to campus.
The Underground Railroad was the movement that enslaved African Americans used to gain freedom in the 19th century. It was in the shadows, but it wasn't truly underground, and it wasn't technically a "railroad" either. Mary Liz Stewart, a local teacher, had a hard time explaining the concept to her students. She wanted to show them the history and give them a chance to touch it, but a place like that didn't exist in the Capital Region. So she built one.
Through their research, Stewart and her husband, Paul, discovered that an unassuming house on Livingston Avenue in Albany was a safe haven for freedom seekers. The Stephen and Harriet Myers residence was a headquarters for Underground Railroad activity in the mid 1850s, as documented by a flier that survived from that period, as well as other documents. The Stewarts bought the house in 2007 for $1,500 and built a museum.
Fr. Ken Paulli, O.F.M., associate professor of education, teaches a section of First Year Seminar. His overarching theme focuses on social dislocation and leaving home, as explored through four different units - including social justice. To finish the year, Fr. Ken hoped to take his students to the Myers Residence, but the pandemic foiled those plans. So, instead, he took a few students to the home (and was able to maintain physical distancing), and asked Andy Murphy '17, assistant director of digital strategy, to tag along and record the experience. Murphy edited a video that was played for the class. Plus, Mary Liz Stewart came to campus and spoke about her experience renovating the Myers residence and uncovering the critical role Albany played in the Underground Railroad.
"I feel that the biggest takeaway from the trip was the fact that there could be so many historical aspects to our lives. The Myers' house held various important events and people that were willing to go above and beyond for those who were oppressed and seeking freedom. One could drive by the Myers' house and not think twice about it, yet, when you stop and take in the area you are in, you can learn so much."
Alex Kelley '24
"I had the privilege of going in person to the Underground Railroad education center and watching the video afterwards. For me, it spoke volumes because when you learn about something such as the Underground Railroad, you think about how it was mainly situated along the East Coast and worked to help get slaves into the northern part of the U.S. or Canada. I didn’t know that something like this existed within Albany or within close proximity to Siena College, and it goes to show how bigger historical aspects can be ingrained within the local community."
Nicholas Fitzgerald-Miller '24