Spencer Crew Spotlights Underground Railroad in D.C. Region

Posted: February 21, 2011 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: February 22, 2011 at 10:22 am

Spencer Crew. Creative Services photo

In the next Vision Series lecture on Monday, Feb. 28, Spencer Crew, Robinson Professor of American, African-American and Public History, will discuss one of his areas of expertise, the Underground Railroad, and debunk some of the myths surrounding this movement.

Crew will present his remarks at 7 p.m. at the Center for the Arts Concert Hall on the Fairfax Campus.

In particular, the discussion will highlight the activities of what Crew terms “the very sophisticated” Underground Railroad operatives in the Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., region.

Crew will explain how the Underground Railroad was one of the first interracial activist movements in the history of the United States. The participants represented a diverse cross section of people from different racial, religious and geographic backgrounds.

But separating myth from reality is often difficult to do in talking about the Railroad. To provide a more accurate history of the Underground Railroad, Crew’s presentation will focus on the day-to-day operation of this network of antislavery activists. The recounting will illustrate the challenges faced by these individuals, who defied the laws of the land because of their opposition to the institution of slavery.

Crew has worked in public history institutions for more than 25 years. He served as president of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center for six years. The center has attracted worldwide attention because of the quality of its presentations and focus on race, interracial cooperation and issues of contemporary slavery.

He also worked at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History for 20 years, nine of those years as the director. His most important exhibition was the groundbreaking “Field to Factory: Afro-American Migration 1915–1940.” The exhibition generated a national discussion about migration, race and creating historical exhibitions. He also wrote a book of the same title that was published in 1987.

Crew was co-curator of “The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden,” one of the Smithsonian’s most popular exhibitions, and was co-author of the book of the same title (2002).

Crew also wrote “Black Life in Secondary Cities: A Comparative Analysis of the Black Communities of Camden and Elizabeth, N.J. 1860–1920” (1993). He was co-author of “Unchained Memories: Readings from the Slave Narratives” (2002).

A graduate of Brown University, Crew also earned master’s and doctoral degrees from Rutgers University.

Ticket information: Free tickets are required. Tickets are available online, at the Center for the Arts Ticket Office (open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.), and on the evening of the event.

Write to mediarel at gazette@gmu.edu