April 29, 2010
West Virginia Independence Hall Museum in downtown Wheeling will present two programs related to the Underground Railroad on Saturday, May 8, from 11 a.m. - noon and from 2 - 3 p.m. The programs were originally scheduled in February to celebrate Black History Month, but had to be cancelled due to inclement weather. Activities are free and suitable for all ages; the public is invited to attend.
At 11 a.m., Dr. John Mattox, founder and curator of the Underground Railroad Museum in Flushing, Ohio, will present “The Underground Railroad in the Ohio Valley: Telling Hard Stories from Ordinary People.” Mattox will recount important true stories and lead discussions regarding the enslaved Africans who tried to escape to freedom during the 19th century in the upper Ohio River Valley.
At 2 p.m., storyteller, folklorist and performer Ilene Evans of Thomas, W.Va. will present her dramatic program, “General Moses: Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, 1855.” Evans will perform as Harriet Tubman, bringing to life her role in the liberation of slaves through the Underground Railroad. Spirituals and songs of inspiration fill this first-person program and show the passion of the kind of leader who is one of the great unsung heroes of America.
Ohio was an important avenue for what is known as the Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad Museum houses a collection of more than 9,500 artifacts reflecting local and national history relating to the days of slavery and its subsequent abolition. It features an extensive collection of publications, books, memorabilia and other articles. The exhibits portray what is known about slavery and the Underground Railroad in Ohio and features an understanding of the culture in the 1800s. In 1998, the museum became a member of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.
Mattox attended Houston Tillitson College in Austin, Texas, and majored in sociology and psychology. He has been active in numerous community organizations including the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program; president of the Special Wish Foundation, Inc., Upper Ohio Valley Wheeling Chapter; co-chair of the African American Cultural Committee at Ohio University-Eastern Campus; historian of the Friends of Freedom Society in Columbus, Ohio; and member of the NAACP in the Ohio Valley; among others. Mattox was recognized as the 2004 Tourism Person of the Year in Belmont County. Mattox was honored for his efforts in preserving an important chapter in American history, and in doing so, promoting tourism in the county.
Tubman was born into slavery in Maryland but escaped through the Underground Railroad to Pennsylvania in 1849. She then became the most famous leader of that network, aiding slaves in their escape to free states and Canada. She was known as “Moses” to the hundreds of slaves she helped to freedom and the thousands of others she inspired. Tubman was never caught and never lost a slave on the road to freedom. She died in 1913. After the performance, Evans will open the floor to questions and answers.
Evans is an energetic, vibrant, original performing artist. She uses movement, poetry, story, song, rhythm and rhyme in telling her tales, and specializes in multicultural tales inspired by a rich Affrilachian life and all its folklore. She has performed internationally, from the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, to Phoenix, Ariz. for more than 30 years. Evans also is an educator, and it is through her not for profit organization, Voices From the Earth, that she does much of her work. She has a bachelor of arts degree from Trinity College, studied theater and dance at the University of Wisconsin and is a member of the West Virginia Humanities Council’s History Alive! program.
For more information about the Black History Month programs, contact Travis Henline, site manager at West Virginia Independence Hall, at (304) 238-1300.
West Virginia Independence Hall, originally built as a federal custom house in 1859, served as the home of the pro-Union state conventions of Virginia during the spring and summer of 1861 and as the capitol of loyal Virginia from June 1861 to June 1863. It also was the site of the first constitutional convention for West Virginia. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1988, the museum is maintained and operated by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, with the cooperation and assistance of the West Virginia Independence Hall Foundation. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Saturday, with the exception of major holidays. The museum is located on the corner of 16th and Market Streets in Wheeling.
The West Virginia Division of Culture and History, an agency of the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts, brings together the state’s past, present and future through programs and services in the areas of archives and history, the arts, historic preservation and museums. Its administrative offices are located at the Culture Center in the State Capitol Complex in Charleston, which also houses the state archives and state museum. The Culture Center is West Virginia’s official showcase for the arts. The agency also operates a network of museums and historic sites across the state. For more information about the Division’s programs, visit www.wvculture.org. The Division of Culture and History is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.