Voices - News


Tuesday, June 27, 2017 - 2:57pm

The Fight for the Hopper Gibbons House

In the summer of 2007 an article in The New York Times informed me that the only home of a White abolitionist in Manhattan in New York City that survived the 1863 Draft Riots was in the process of being altered beyond recognition.  The home, a townhouse located at 339 W. 29th St., is now owned by Tony Mamounas whose company was adding a fifth-floor penthouse to the four-story Hopper Gibbons house.  The Hopper Gibbons house is a 19th century rowhouse, a part of contiguous brick buildings that witnessed the Draft Riots, and was a victim of Irish arsonists who broke down the door at 339 W. 29th St., setting the house on fire gutting the interior.

The Hopper Gibbons house is an important physical element of the American Civil War that survived the July 1863 New York City Draft Riots, and is the only remaining building that was attacked because the then-owners were sheltering Blacks fleeing enslavement and was the site of meetings between Black and White abolition leaders.

The 1863 Draft Riots in New York City began as a violent protest by members of the Irish community against the implementation of the draft during the Civil war incited by Democrats who felt they were being drafted into a war that would free enslaved Black people who would then compete with them for jobs.  The Irish were also angry because middle and upper-class White New Yorkers were able to pay substitutes to take their places in the Union Army.  The anger vetted against the Black community in New York City was a violent replay of that of 1712 when enslaved Black New Yorkers were executed to suppress a slave revolt.  Starting July 13, 1863, the homes of Blacks were firebombed and the Negro orphanage that housed more than 200 children was burned.  Before the battle ended more than 200 people thought to be abolitionists were targeted, and many of their homes were burned.  The home of the Hopper Gibbons family who were abolitionists was singled out by the arsonists and on the second night of the riot (July 14, 1863) the Hopper Gibbons home was torched.  The occupants would not go through the front door to the outside in fear of being assaulted, or worse, killed.

James Sloan Gibbons and his daughter, Lucy Gibbons Morse, were in the house when the inferno began.  Abigail Hopper Gibbons was in the South with a Union Army regiment serving as a volunteer nurse.  Mr. Gibbons had developed an alternate plan of escape with the help of neighbors whose homes were attached to 3339 W. 29th St., and while the arsonists, the bad guys and the bullies stood on the street waiting to pounce on the abolitionists, James Gibbons, his daughter Lucy and others trapped in the melee, climbed up ladders through scuttles which opened on the roof, scampered across rooftop to another scuttle, climbed down another ladder into a hallway, and by exiting through the rear of the building Mr. Gibbons and his daughter escaped harm.

Fern Luskin, a professor of Art and Architecture, and Julie Finch, an actress, jointly worked to oppose the addition to the Hopper Gibbons house, and during their 10-year effort, they would attract a coalition that was multi-ethnic and multi-cultural, including people of a wide spread of incomes.  I called Fern Luskin, and began a 10-year process of exchanging emails, phone calls, site visits to 29th Street and consultation.  We were able to suggest that the neighborhood based organization that Fern Luskin and Julie Finch led develop working relationships with the African American community, and they secured the support of Jacob Morris of the Harlem Society.  In a July 2, 2012 Wall Street Journal article Mr. Morris identified 20 major Black historic sites that included the slave market at Wall Street, the site of the Colored Orphanage that burned in the Draft Riots, and the location of the home of David Ruggles, the Black abolitionist who sheltered Fredrick Douglas after he escaped enslavement in Baltimore.  

We were able to connect Ms. Luskin with what would become on the community’s most important allies, the Bronx Lab School’s Underground Railroad Bicycle Club, a group of students who visited the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in 2008.  At our suggestion, and with the cooperation of the administration of the Bronx Lab School who allowed Rachel Appel to accompany the students to a hearing of the Board of Standards and Appeals in Lower Manhattan.  At 10:00 a.m. November 20, 2012, it had been raining since the night before.  It was “wet dog weather” when a multi-racial parade of soaked students from the Bronx Lab School dismounted outside the building where the Board of Standards and Appeals would meet.  At 10:00 a.m., the wet sock caps, bandanas, scarves and poplin jackets had been removed.  Sport jackets, blazers and notebooks were extracted from backpacks, and the scholar members of the Bronx Lab School, under the watchful supportive gaze of their teacher, Rachel Apple, went to work.  The youthful students reminded the Board members and taught many in the audience of the ugly history of the Draft Riots, and the noble humanitarianism of the Hopper Gibbons family.  They noted that the family not only sheltered Black people in flight from slavery, they hosted Black abolition leaders in their home, meeting with them as peers.  From 339 W. 29th Street, a life mission dedicated to human rights would continue, directed toward serving women prisoners.  The young people reminded those at the hearing that the Hopper gibbons house was a node of humanitarian behavior and actions on the part of a small group of New Yorkers at a time when New York was considering leaving the Union and joining the Confederacy.

Mr. Mamounas, the owner/developer of 339 W. 29th St., would use every method available to him to use continuances and appealing to every possible venue, while at the same time proceeding with construction work on the building.  Weeks, months, years would pass.  New hearings would be scheduled.  Fern Luskin, Julie Finch and the neighborhood would scrape together funds to hire Jack Lester, an attorney who specializes in Community Law.  Mr. Lester successfully represented residents of Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village against Black Rock Realty for illegally raising rents.

May 18, 2017 the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Department of Buildings of New York City ruled in favor of the neighbors of the Hopper Gibbons house who want it returned to its historic height.  The voices, the petitions of ordinary people and their children were heard.  There will be no celebration however, until the fifth floor of 339 W. 29th Street is removed, and the spirits of the Hopper Gibbons home are free to run unimpeded.


Carl B. Westmoreland


National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017 - 1:15pm

2017 Summer Hours Begin Sunday

“Whether it’s after a church service or community fellowship, or an afternoon in the park with your family enjoying The Banks community - our doors are open for all to experience the museum and be inspired by stories of courage, cooperation and perseverance.” Richard Cooper

As Mondays in May come to close on Memorial Day, our seasonal summer hours are just around the corner. Starting on Sunday May 28, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center will be open on Sundays from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. for guests to enjoy on through Labor Day. Additional summer hours will provide the public with opportunities to engage in historical programming, tour permanent exhibitions and experience special exhibitions, including Mandela: The Journey to Ubuntu. This powerful exhibition, open now through August 20, commemorates the life, journey and legacy of South African President Nelson Mandela through images from documentary photographer Matthew Willman. Commissioned by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Willman spent the final 10 years of Mandela’s life capturing intimate moments and rare stories about his personal fight for freedom and South Africa’s road to racial equality.  

Guests can also visit recent museum additions – The Rosa Parks Experience and the “Open Your Mind” Understanding Implicit Bias Learning Lab. The Rosa Parks Experience is an immersive virtual reality experience that commemorates Civil Rights icon Rosa Parks’ historic demonstration in 1955 – only days before the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The Open Your Mind: Understanding Implicit Bias Learning Lab is designed to help the public understand and recognize bias and other forms of discrimination.

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center’s summer hours begin this Sunday, May 28, from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., through Labor Day weekend. The museum will also be open to the public on Memorial Day from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. 

Will Jones
Public Relations & Social Media Coordinator
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center 

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Thursday, April 27, 2017 - 9:45am

The Crisis Unfolding in Chechnya

There is a crisis unfolding in Chechnya. It has been going on for some weeks now and is gaining some much needed international media attention. Chechen gay men are being hunted. They are being lured into traps via social media and chat rooms by government authorities. They are then arrested at the location they have agreed to meet a date or a friend. These men are being held for days or weeks at a time in makeshift cells and are being tortured via beatings and electrocution until they agree to give up the names of others like them. These beatings and sessions of torture are being carried out by Chechen authorities in an effort to eradicate homosexuality from Chechen life.  Once an individual has given up the information the authorities seek they are released to a male family member.

The Chechen authorities are said to be advising these male family members to carry out an “honor killing,” ending the victim’s life.

This is happening in 2017.

Human Rights Watch has reported that of the three gay men killed, two were murdered by relatives upon return from their detention. Others live under the threat of imminent death from their families.

The Chechen government has been asked and denies this is happening by saying, “such men did not exist in Chechnya.” This international crisis must be confronted. We cannot remain silent.

LGBTQ people are among the most marginalized people in the world. The events taking place in Chechnya are cloaked in a darkness that makes it very hard to see any light. These men live in a society that they are desperately trying to escape from to save their own lives. They have few if any resources depending upon their location. They don’t know whom, if anyone, they can trust and their lives are in constant danger.

I wish I had some words of encouragement and hope to offer here.

What I can do is challenge you to stay informed and use your voice to tell someone else about what is happening in Chechnya. Share your humanity, be open and be kind to the people you encounter. Oppression against one group is oppression against us all. 

Jesse Kramer
Creative Director
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

Wednesday, November 23, 2016 - 10:52am

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center Denounces Hate Speech

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center tells stories about the past to educate and inform the present in order to prevent historical atrocities from recurring. This is our charge as a museum of conscience. We are the watchers and keepers of history.
We are appalled and alarmed at the recent hate speech of a white nationalist that has gone viral. Hatred is not an American value. We cannot be bystanders. We cannot ‘wait and see’. We cannot wish this away.
Now is the time for all Americans to confront and stand up to hatred. We will not be silent. We join and support the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in publicly denouncing racist ideologies and hate-filled rhetoric.

Thursday, November 3, 2016 - 12:00am

Go Vote, America


In just a few short days Americans will wake up with a civic obligation to go to the polls and cast their vote. In the absence of some catastrophic event there are two inevitabilities and two choices facing us on November 8th and beyond. The two inevitabilities are; first there will be an election on November 8th and second there will be a 45th President of these United States.

The two choices facing us are: first, the candidates who do not win will have to choose both to concede and congratulate the winner or to refuse to concede and congratulate the President Elect, whoever that may be.  The second choice each of us must make is how we answer the fundamental question “where do we go beyond this highly contentious election?”

We may disagree but our disagreements must not go beyond the pale of civility and our arguments must be about opposing views with reason and logic as the chief instruments of argumentation. Civility requires that personal, degrading and disrespecting attacks are out of bound. We can choose to sink to the abyss of chaos and become the divided people of America or we can choose to ascend to the heights of community building as the united people of America and become what the founders of this nation described as a city set on a hill shinning the light of freedom, liberty, justice, opportunity, growth, development, hope, aspiration, inclusiveness and progress.

We can choose to minimize our diversity by limiting power, position and privilege to out dated demographics, or we can choose to embrace the vast diversity of our nation and empower all people to enjoy equal opportunity to fulfill their potential without regard to their race, religion, gender, preference, or political affiliation. 

When we make the choice to move toward constructive community building we are making the choice to embrace the richness of diversity. It is a movement toward openness. It is a movement toward breaking down barriers. It is a movement toward bridge building. It is a movement toward the brotherhood and sisterhood of humanity. Wither we are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, agnostic, or atheist we are all existentially and ontologically connected.

We have the means, skills and technology to eliminate hunger, poverty and disparity. We have the capacity to build communities that are diverse, integrated and equitable, we must now embrace the moral courage and the political will to do so.

So, in a few days we will elect a President and Vice President, a senate, a congress, governors, state legislators, and municipal leaders. After the election you and I must decide if we will work together to build a constructive, compassionate community or if we will allow our great nation to slip into chaos. I implore us to join together and choose to build community. The future of our great democracy is in our hands not only in terms of how we vote but also in terms of what we do after the election.

Amb. Michael A. Battle, DMin, executive vice president & provost

Friday, October 7, 2016 - 11:36am

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center Announces Extended Run of Solitary Confinement Cell Experience


The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center has announced the extended run of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture’s (NRCAT) Solitary Confinement Cell Experience through October 29, 2016. The exhibit, in partnership with the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati, is a part of NRCAT’s nationwide interfaith campaign to expose and end the torture of solitary confinement in prisons, jails and detention centers across the U.S.

The exhibition consists of a replica cell with audio from a maximum security prison in Maine and panels highlighting personal stories. The cell has been exhibited at the Ecumenical Advocacy Days in Washington DC, the Islamic Circle of North America’s Annual Convention in Baltimore, the United Church of Christ Synod in Cleveland, the Pennsylvania Council of Churches’ Statewide Conference on Mass Incarceration and the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis, prior to its exhibition at the Center. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is the first museum to host the exhibit. In addition to the cell, the Solitary Confinement Cell Experience highlights six personal stories of individuals held in solitary confinement cells

In conjunction with the exhibitionBreaking Down the Box, a documentary film screening as part of the Freedom Film Series, will take place Wednesday, October 26 at 7:00 p.m. Ron Stief, NRCAT executive director, will discuss the mental health, racial justice and human rights implications of the systemic use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons following the screening in the Harriet Tubman Theater. Breaking Down the Box is free and open to the public. RSVPs are requested as seating is limited. Click here to RSVP.

Assia Micheaux Johnson, Public Relations & Social Media Coordinator 

Images: Solitary Confinement Cell Experience

Related Content:  Solitary Confinement Cell Experience.

More authored by Assia: Here's Why We Should Not Boycott RootsFreedom Center Open This Memorial Day, May 30,Freedom Center Open Sundays in SummerGift Shop Sale: Mother's Day Gift Ideas and More!, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center Announces New CuratorReveal Stories: The 18 Black American Athletes of the 1936 Olympic Games International Human Rights Day: Cincinnati Honors Legacy of Helen Suzman150th Anniversary of the 13th Amendment: President Obama Gives Presidential ProclamationFlame Friday: Artist James PateFreedom Center to Host Award-winning Author and Yale University Alumni Jeff Hobbs ThursdayKing Records now a Cincinnati landmarkOn This Day in History: The Preliminary Emancipation ProclamationConnect with History Labor Day Weekend50 Years Later: The Voting Rights Act of 1965,  50 Midwest Museums We LoveMother's Day Gift IdeasFlame FridayJimmie Lee JacksonMLK Day 2015

Friday, October 7, 2016 - 12:00am

Ambassador Battle Reviews: The Queen of Katwe

The Queen of Katwe is an excellent movie for multiple reasons; I will mention five of the key reasons everyone should see this movie. The first reason is that The Queen of Katwe demonstrates the very clear connection between learning chess and the development of long-term strategic planning and reasoning skills. One of my favorite lines in the movie is when Gloria says that the power of chess is that “the small one can become the big one”. This is a lesson about how life is not determined by one’s size or status but by what ones does with their size and status. With intentional strategy “the small one can become the big one”.

The second reason for not missing this excellent movie is that it demonstrates the value of providing access to education to rural and urban populations inclusively by being intentional about access to education for girls. I have traveled extensively throughout the African Continent and have seen the advantages a nations gains by inclusive education and the disadvantages a nation suffers by the denial of inclusive education. When a nation does not provide inclusive access to education opportunities for girls that nation limits its own potential.

The third reason that The Queen of Katwe is a must see is its presentation of the power and resilience of family to love and learn through any adversity. The nuances of the relationship between Nakku and each of her children as well as the nuances of the relationships between each of the children was a remarkable study of family dynamics.  Nakku was dealing with the premature death of her husband while raising a family with values she would not compromise. The conflict Nakku had with Night and the tension Phiona had trying to mediate that conflict were rooted in love. Both Night and Phiona feared the all too common fate of young girls growing up in rural Uganda but chess provide Phiona a different outcome than what Night experienced. Benjamin’s initial tension with Phiona’s developing chess skills and his eventual embracing of her mastery of the game was a rich lesson of love and support. 

The fourth reason is that the film's portrayal of life in Uganda is so real that it reminded me of my time in Uganda, a nation with such great possibilities and that is benefiting from its participation in the common market of the East African Communities. This movie brings Uganda to life. While a poor nation, Uganda is poised to benefit tremendously from increased attention to infrastructure development to include an expanded electrical grid. 

The Queen of Katwe is a compelling and moving film that showcases the positive change that can be made by active NGOs (non-government organizations) when led by people with a compassion for the development of others. David’s interest in the young people for whom he was responsible demonstrated the power of authentic care and compassion for the total well-being of youth who would have otherwise been left with limited hope.


Amb. Michael A. Battle, DMin, executive vice president & provost

Image Credit: Disney



Friday, September 16, 2016 - 11:31am

Introducing Demetrius Williams, Marketing Intern

Hello everyone! My name is Demetrius Williams and I am the new Marketing & Communications Intern for the Fall of 2016. I was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio where I attended Hughes Center High School. Now, I am a student at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College pursuing my Associates Degree in Audio/Video Production. Once accomplished, I would like to attend Northern Kentucky University and obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in Media Communications.

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is a place of knowledge, inspiration and peace. I wanted to Intern at here because I have a desire to learn more about history and our freedom heroes. On the technical side of things, I also want to know the procedures that are needed for interacting with the media and marketing promotion. I would like to thank everyone at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center for welcoming me aboard and making me feel a part of the team.

Thursday, September 15, 2016 - 12:07pm

Oktoberfest Zinzinnati 2016 & Parking

Oktoberfest Zinzinnati, produced by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber and presented by Sam Adams, will celebrate its 40th anniversary, September 16-18 at a bigger, better site on Second and Third Streets, between Elm and Walnut Streets, downtown. 

If you are visiting the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center this weekend (Friday, September 16 - Saturday, September 17), we recommend using the directions included on the GetToOktoberfest webpage to find parking. We have included a map of the Oktoberfest Zinzinnati festival below.

As with any festival, there will be street closures. The following streets will close at 9AM on Friday, September 16 and remain closed until Monday, September 19 at 5AM.

  • Second Street- all exits leading to Second Street from NB75, SB75, EB50 and the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge will be closed.  (Exits from EB50 and the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge will close at 8AM) Second Street will remain closed west of Walnut Street
  • Third Street- closed between Walnut Street and Elm Street
  • Vine Street/Rosa Parks Street- closed between Fourth Street and Freedom Way (Local parking access maintained between Fourth Street and Third Street and between Freedom Way and Second Street
  • Race Street- closed between Fourth Street and Freedom Way (Local parking access maintained between Fourth Street and Third Street and between Freedom Way and Second Street
  • Elm Street- temporarily converted to 2-way traffic between Fourth Street and Second Street which will provide southbound access from Fourth Street to Mehring Way

For a list of Oktoberfest Zinzinnati events & activities, visit http://www.oktoberfestzinzinnati.com.

Please note: The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is not open on Sunday, September 18. Our regular operating hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 11AM- 5PM.