About the Harriet Tubman Center

Why establish a Center for Freedom and Equity at Binghamton University?

The year 2019 marks 400 years of the presence of people of African descent in British Colonial America. Such an important milestone presents us with the perfect opportunity to examine closely issues relating to freedom and equity. Freedom is a fundamental human right and it is a core value in America and the world. The Declaration of Independence, The US Constitution and The Bill of Rights granted Americans priceless freedoms. The unprecedented nature of these documents reflecting some of the highest ideals ever espoused by any government garnered admiration from around the world. The delegates of the different states represented at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, however, sidestepped the issue of slavery, yet it  has profoundly influence the course of American history. They left this question to future generations, and it took a Civil War and the Civil Rights movement to make the words of The Declaration of Independence,  that “all men are created equal” a reality.

As the statesman, ex-slave and resident of upstate New York, Frederick Douglass, famously asked in 1852: "What to the slave is the fourth of July?" Acknowledging that the Founding Fathers were "great in their day and generation," he then answered his own question in this his most famous address:

I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance betweenus. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me.

The groundbreaking Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 and citizenship grantedto African Americans after the war attempted to correct centuries' old omissions, but it took the Civil Rights movement of the 1960's to address the issue of equality and freedom for all in the United States.
Yet for the all these gains, the legacy of slavery and the unfinished business of freedom still looms largein today's society. The need for equity is still a pressing issue as disparities in education,employment and healthcare abound. Our view is that there is no straight line from the past to the present, but  there is a legacy and  patterns and cycles of behavior and thought over time should be addressed. It is for this reason that a center that focuses on freedom and equity istimely and necessary.

Image: Auburn, NY
Auburn, NY Image Credit: Image courtesy of SeeItHistory.com.
Furthermore, in the US, there are only a few research centers of this kind, that address these issues and they are located principally at Ivy League institutions. Binghamton, as a premier public Ivy, would be one of the first public institutions to enter into this field. The Harriet Tubman Center connects the history of slavery and abolition to public policy. Historian Anne C. Bailey’s work, in particular her public history work, is an example of “living history” or “applied history.” She is a contributor to the widely acclaimed New York Times 1619 Project which has already done much to connect the history of slavery to current and contemporary issues. Over 3500 schools across the country are now supplementing their social studies curriculum with The 1619 Project. Furthermore, we firmly believe that history belongs to all people, and as such, grassroots perspectives and points of view are very important to our mission.

Research projects on medical disparities in Black and rural Southern communities - one outgrowth of the legacy of slavery are also part of our work. Drawing on the expertise of a multi- faceted interdisciplinary team led by Professor Krishnaswami Srihari and Professor Mohammad Khasawneh, our aim is to address the issue of medical disparities (density of hospitals, payment issues, access and quality of care etc.) in the context of the history and cultures of underserved communities. In this way, the social sciences and the hard sciences converge to create cutting-edge research. Educational equity is also important to us. Though much progress has been made, there are still disparities in educational  access  for students from historically underrepresented groups. Dr. Sharon Bryant, a professor in the Decker School of Nursing and Health Sciences, directs three educational programs that provide  such access. She has also collected valuable research data over a twenty year period on programs of this kind.
The Tubman Center is also committed to linking with organizations like the Harriet Tubman home which  helps to tell the story of the abolition movement in the Southern Tier and upstate NY. We will actively seek linkages with other organizations and research centers across the country committed to similar work. Finally, our work would not be possible without the expertise of our Advisory Board and the student and alumni research assistants that work closely with us. We are thankful for their participation and contribution.