The Underground Railroad Free Press has named its 2022 Awardees. The prizes are the most esteemed honor bestowed in the Underground Railroad community.
By awarding the prizes, the Free Press promotes awareness and appreciation of contemporary Underground Railroad work to the general public, elected and other officials, governments, and key decision-makers by publicizing prizes and winners.
The prizes recognize and honor the most outstanding contributions to contemporary Underground Railroad work in three categories: leadership, preservation and advancement of knowledge.
The 2022 Free Press Prize for Leadership
The 2022 Free Press Prize for Leadership is awarded to Raul Rothblatt for unwavering dedication in saving a historic New York City Underground Railroad safe-house from destruction.
In November of 2014, Rothblatt, a community organizer in the Brooklyn Borough of New York City, started a GoFundMe campaign to help save a modest Brooklyn home from demolition. This wasn’t just any home but Truesdell House, an important Underground Railroad safe-house and abolitionist haven operated by Thomas and Harriet Truesdell from 1855 through the end of the American Civil War.
Rothblatt’s goal was to convert the home into a museum and cultural space. As he explains the neighborhood setting, “This used to be a hotbed of abolitionist activity. Now it's a hotbed of hotel speculation surrounded by 30-story hotels. We are the last holdout of a time when Brooklynites fought against slavery, when New York City was the financial capital of the Southern slave economy. The 19th century history will help to make the 21st century skyscrapers more meaningful.”
Free Press was notified when what was to be a long fight began in 2007 and was not finally won until February 2, 2021, when the City of New York declared Truesdell House a protected historic landmark immune to demolition. The 14-year fight was finally won with Rothblatt leading all the way and Free Press reporting on the struggle for as long in eight issues.
Rothblatt describes himself as “Dad, proud Brooklynite, composer/cellist/bassist, and neighborhood activist.” He serves as Director of Community Affairs in the office of New York State Assembly Member Brian Cunningham. He is a graduate of the Liszt Academy of Music in Hungary and the University of California at Berkeley.
The 2022 Free Press Prize for Preservation
The 2022 Underground Railroad Free Press Prize for Preservation is awarded to author Barbara Lockhart for her nine years of research bringing back to life and thus preserving the vivid 1850s African American history of her own farm, and the remarkable life of Elizabeth Burton, its free Black owner 150 years before.
Lockhart’s research resulted in her multiple-awarded book, "Elizabeth’s Field: Of Freedom and Bondage on Harriet Tubman's Eastern Shore" (Secant Publishing, 2020). Lockhart’s and Burton’s farm is located in Dorchester County, Maryland, birthplace of Harriet Tubman, who makes appearances in the book.
Much of Elizabeth’s Field was related to the author by her 84-year-old African American neighbor, Mary Taylor, who told Lockhart the intact oral tradition of the property and of the racist tribulations that the people who lived on Lockhart's farm and nearby endured 165 years ago. Lockhart, now 84 herself, deftly wove past and present into the revealing lesson of how wrongs can echo down through generations. This beautifully written story has not only preserved history but resurrected it.
The 2022 Free Press Prize for Advancement of Knowledge
The 2022 Underground Railroad Free Press Prize for the
Advancement of Knowledge is awarded to the James E. Bonine House Underground Railroad Research Library of the Underground Railroad Society of Cass County, Michigan, for exemplifying what dedicated local organizations are capable of in uncovering and portraying regional Underground Railroad history.
Founded in 2015, the James E. Bonine House Underground Railroad Research Library has been developed into a first-class collection of local Underground Railroad history, personages, and resources. Over the past seven years, the staff of the library has worked diligently collecting everything known about the Underground Railroad in Cass County, Michigan. The library is the home of collections of six Cass County Underground Railroad historians and of extensive local research that was gathered from many sources including notebooks on every family, Black and White, known to have been involved with the Underground Railroad in the county .
In 2015, volunteers began organizing piles of collected information. By 2018, originals were scanned, copied, and filed covering all aspects of the Underground Railroad in Cass County. The library had its own website created, providing access to the world.
In the fall of 2018, the library announced it's official opening, both in person and online. In 2020, copies of everything in the online library were donated to nearby Western Michigan University ensuring that the story of the Underground Railroad in Cass County Michigan will exist in perpetuity. Bonine House Underground Railroad Research Library is listed in Underground Railroad Free Press’s Lynx registry of Underground Railroad organizations and in the National Park Service’s Network to Freedom roster.
Published bimonthly since 2006, the Underground Railroad Free Press brings together organizations and people interested in the historical and the contemporary Underground Railroad. Underground Railroad Free Press is emailed free of charge
on the 15th of odd-numbered months..
Free Press is also the home of Lynx, the central registry of contemporary Underground Railroad organizations; and Datebook, the community's event calendar.