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Jessica Pearce ’18 walks in footsteps of abolitionists

By Upstate Institute on August 21, 2015
This post was written by Jessica Pearce ’18

This summer, I had the opportunity to work at The National Abolition Hall of Fame in Peterboro, New York. The National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum honors antislavery abolitionists, their work to end slavery, and the legacy of that struggle, and strives to complete the second and ongoing abolition – the moral conviction to end racism. I have always had a passion for studying history, especially American history of the Antebellum South, Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Civil Rights Movements of the late 50’s, 60’s and beyond.

I have grown up in communities where the demographics are different from those of the environment that I am currently surrounded by at Colgate. In the process of transitioning to life at Colgate, at times I felt that I lost the sense of comfort that I used to have at home when speaking so freely. I found myself speaking passionately on issues but sometimes felt as if I did not have the facts and information to back up what I was saying, as much of what I would say was based on personal lived experience. I felt that working at NAHOF may introduce me to the many voices behind a narrative that I hadn’t yet heard, giving me the tools to be able to articulate and share my ideas. I still want to learn more about and understand how the Black Lives Matter movement, the weight of the Confederate flag, ongoing police brutality and the continual murder of innocent people could relate to the work done by Abolitionists hundreds of years ago.

The National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum in Peterboro, New York

The National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum in Peterboro, New York

Working at NAHOF has given me the push I needed to pursue my goals of someday being a writer and an educator, and allowed me to solidify my goal of talking with others and ensuring that these stories do not go untold. This summer, I gave tours to diverse groups of people, from school aged children to groups of adults, and learned from their experiences. It was incredible to see how journalists, magazine editors, school teachers, politicians and professors all came together to hear the stories of Abolitionists. My first semester at Colgate, I took a history class called The African American Struggle for Freedom and Democracy. During the entire semester, I never realized that The Gerrit Smith Estate and other places that played important roles were just a few miles away. NAHOF has many books, art pieces and resources, including a preliminary draft of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, complete with his own smudged fingerprints. Great minds and orators like Frederick Douglass and abolitionist-women’s rights advocate, Sojourner Truth found guidance and support in Peterboro. Studying in the same space that they once found solace in was overwhelmingly powerful. One of the best things about working at NAHOF this summer was having the opportunity to meet with my boss, Dot Willsey, on a daily basis. She is one of my mentors, and helped me shape the way I understood and critically viewed the work and dedication of the Abolitionists. We came to the conclusion that we cannot separate ourselves from the past and our intertwined histories. Their work is far from being over.

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