Editorial

By Fordham, Monroe | Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, January 31, 2001 | Go to article overview

Editorial


Fordham, Monroe, Afro-Americans in New York Life and History


Editorial

Nearly two decades ago Joan Maynard, Director of the Weeksville Museum and then member of the New York State Historic Preservation Advisory Board, suggested the need for developing a tourism guide to African-American historic sites in New York State. In her mind, such a guide would include a county by county directory of such sites, photographs, historical information, location, and other related information that would be helpful to tourists. She argued that if a guide to New York's African-American historic sites could be published in pamphlet form, and distributed and publicized widely, such could be a major stimulus to tourism in the state. For years Ms. Maynard was one of the few African-Americans that was active in historic preservation circles. During those years she campaigned tirelessly to build bridges between the African-American and historic preservation communities.

New York State's "Freedom Trail" initiative offers an excellent opportunity to begin developing a New York State African-American History Tour Guide, and at the same time provide the guidance and assistance to help fledgling and independent historic sites to capitalize on the growing interest in "heritage tourism." And perhaps most important of all, by attracting Americans from all backgrounds (and even visitors from other countries) a New York African-American "Freedom Trail" heritage tourism package would move African-American history one step closer to the mainstream of American history.

What is heritage tourism? "Visits by persons from outside the host community motivated wholly or in part by interest in the historical or lifestyle/heritage offering of a community, region, group, or institution." (Brown) Heritage tourism seeks to attract visitors to historic sites. Ideally those visitors will pay admissions, or otherwise spend money at the site. (In addition, those visitors will receive the benefits of the site's education programs). The money spent by tourists or visitors can be a major source of income for owners of historic sites that had a connection to the "Underground Railroad." Many of those sites are owned by not-for-profit groups, small church congregations, or governmental agencies with limited budgets. Many of those sites will probably need assistance in developing a plan to market their site.

Collectively, those sites could play a major role in providing "leisure" programs to educate the public about an important phenomenon in American history. In addition to assistance in fundraising, the "Underground Railroad" sites may also need help in developing interesting and accurate education programs that will keep visitors coming. Developing viable education programs should also be a goal of a heritage tourism initiative. Networking and coalition building could be a major asset here in that several sites could share the expertise of the same researcher.

Studies have shown that tourists of the "1990s and beyond" will be better educated and more affluent. Moreover, they want travel experiences that include historic and cultural activities as well as scenic and recreational opportunities. Moreover, many of that generation will have had some formal instruction in African-American history. Whether in specialized African-American history, or in progressive courses in American history, they have been exposed to African-American history in a formal school setting.

In addition, the history channels on TV, Public Television, and the revolution in audio/visual technology have brought African-American history to millions in private and informal settings. The fact is the tourists of the 21 st century will be familiar with the broad outlines of African-American history. Most tourists of the 21st century will have heard about the abolition movement, and "the underground railroad." Most American tourists (and even many tourists from abroad) will be familiar with names like Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and John Brown. …

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