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2017 Ohio River Conference (Richmond, IN)


Submitted by Bridget Striker

For the past three years, the Ohio River National Freedom Corridor (ORNFC) organization has sponsored a regional Underground Railroad Conference. This year’s event was hosted at historic Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana. The conference theme, “How Long, O God, How Long:  The Underground Railroad's Unfinished Business” emphasized how in many ways, the struggles of the past continue to shadow life in 21st-century America. The hope was for those passionate about Underground Railroad (UGRR) history to connect with one another, to commemorate the struggles of the brave enslaved who sought freedom at all costs, and to generate a thoughtful discussion of where we, as a society, go from here.


On Friday, September 29th 20 people enjoyed the pre-conference tour of the Richmond area. The day started at the Wayne County Historical Museum where Executive Director Jim Harlan gave the group an excellent overview of the museum and its collections. The group then headed to Fountain City, Indiana with a brief stop at the New Gardens Meeting House. Once in Fountain City, they met with Mr. Ed Nicholson at the Fountain City Friends Meeting/Quaker Welcome Center where they learned about the history of the building and the role of Quakers in Fountain City’s history. A wonderful lunch was provided by Fountain Acres Foods Amish Store and Deli. After lunch, the tour group spent the afternoon at the Levi & Catharine Coffin State Historic Site and Interpretive Center. Everyone started the site visit with a short film in the Interpretive Center, followed by a guided tour through the Levi & Catharine Coffin House. The entire complex is a fantastic tribute to the work of the Coffins and their associates, as well as, the courageous freedom seekers whom the Coffins met and assisted.


On Saturday, September 30th scholars, educators, and historians met in the Landrum Bolling Center on the Earlham College Campus for a day of fascinating presentations on the Underground Railroad in the Ohio Valley Region. Janice McGuire and Saundra Jackson, the driving force behind the preservation of the Levi & Catharine Coffin House were honored for their lifelong dedication with this year’s Bold Courage Award. Dr. Cheryl LaRoche provided an inspiring lunchtime keynote address, where she challenged everyone in attendance to observe UGRR and enslaved records from a geographical perspective and to look outside the box for hints at the UGRR’s hidden history. Saturday’s events wrapped up with a special debut screening of the film All or Nothin’ by Writer/Director/Producer Charles Campbell.  The film is a fictionalized account of the Cincinnati 28, a group of freedom seekers who crossed the Ohio River from Boone County, Kentucky and made their way to Canada in April 1853.


Sunday’s post-conference tour included site visits to Union Literary Institute and the James & Sophia Clemens House in Longtown area of Randolph and Darke Counties, Indiana. ORNFC owes a debt of gratitude to Mr. Roane Smothers for the guided tour of the properties. The day was rounded out by an afternoon at the Levi & Catharine Coffin State Historic Site and Interpretive Center for those who did not participate in the Friday tour.


ORNFC would like to thank everyone who participated in this year's conference and shared their knowledge during the event. For more information regarding ORNFC and upcoming events, please visit: http://www.ohiorivernationalfreedomcorridor.org/