Scholar to Discuss Harriet Tubman History

Scholar to Discuss Harriet Tubman History


Judith Wellman, a historian of 19th century America who received the 2011 Award of Excellence from the Preservation League of New York State, will discuss the Underground Railroad on Wednesday, Feb. 22, at SUNY Cortland.

Wellman, who runs her own historical investigation firm, will present ”Harriet Tubman and Beyond: Documenting the Underground Railroad in New York State,” during a 12:30 p.m. sandwich seminar in Brockway Hall Jacobus Lounge. The presentation, part of the College’s Black History Month (BHM) series during February, is free and open to the public. 

“It is important for us to remember that slavery happened and that it can happen again,” remarked Wellman, a SUNY Oswego professor emerita who has focused her teaching and research on the Underground Railroad and historical preservation. She is the founder and principal investigator of Historical New York Research Associates.

Wellman, who earned a Ph.D. from the University of Virginia, will begin her talk by attempting to banish the myth that the Underground Railroad was a hushed process that left behind no concrete information or evidence. 

“Many believe that the Underground Railroad was some huge secret that cannot be accurately researched, but that is not true,” said Wellman. During her lecture, Wellman will demonstrate how to identify and use reliable sources on the Underground Railroad.

She also hopes to bring cultural awareness to those in attendance. 

“Everyone knows who Harriet Tubman is,” Wellman said. “But what they do not know is that she came to New York first because of all the Underground Railroad activity going on here.” 

Wellman also will explore the importance of the region’s relationship to the Underground Railroad, and raise the audience’s awareness of its potential for future tourism.

“With an awareness of our culture, we can then bring economic development to communities that may not otherwise get it,” Wellman said.

Wellman said her loyalty to the study of upstate New York’s Underground Railroad involvement has to do with her passion for her local and cultural heritage. 

“It helps us recapture ourselves,” she said. “It was a different time, but it’s the same place.”

Wellman’s dedication and interest in the upstate New York region shines throughout her books, which include The Road to Seneca Falls: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Beginning of the Women's Rights Movement (2004) and Grassroots Reform in the Burned-over District of Upstate New York: Religion, Abolitionism and Democracy (2000).

Wellman’s lecture is just one of many Black History Month events at SUNY Cortland. The Africana Studies Department has organized BHM events for the College since the late 1970s. This year’s BHM campus events are posted online in the College’s homepage calendar and on the Africana Studies Department and the Multicultural Life and Diversity Office websites. They are open to the public and free unless otherwise noted.

For more information about Black History Month, contact organizer Seth Asumah, SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor of Political Science, at (607) 753-2064, or in Old Main, Room 208-B.