Vermont African-American Heritage Trail has stop at Hildene
MANCHESTER — Gov. Peter Shumlin came to Hildene on Friday to promote the African-American Heritage Trail and express appreciation for Hildene’s participation in the historic and educational attraction.
The trail, developed by the state Department of Tourism and Marketing and the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity, includes 19 stops that have ties to the history of black Vermonters and their culture.
Hildene, the historic home of Robert Todd Lincoln, son of President Abraham Lincoln, is part of the tour because of the involvement by Robert Todd Lincoln in the Pullman Company. The railroad cars created by the company provided one of the few lucrative opportunities for blacks and helped create a black middle class throughout the United States.
On Friday, Shumlin and others involved in the creation and promotion of the trail spoke in front of Sunbeam, the Pullman railroad car on display at Hildene.
Shumlin said there were two goals when creating the trail: The first was to bring attention to the history of African-Americans in Vermont and the second was to expand tourism and welcome a more diverse population to the state.
The trail brings visitors to sites that include “museums and cultural sites where exhibits, films and tours illuminate the lives of African-Americans for whom Vermont was part of their identity,” he said.
Shumlin also pointed out that Hildene has strong connection, starting with the link to the president who was known as the “Great Emancipator” and continuing through the Pullman company and its economic opportunities.
Curtiss Reed, executive director of the Partnership for Fairness and Diversity, said there had been discussion about forming the trail for about five years. He said the idea “gained traction” after Shumlin was elected governor and put his support behind the idea.
“Our work on the trail is far from finished,” Reed said. “We believe that every student in Vermont should learn about the transformative ideas each site has to offer. Our friends here at Hildene encapsulate that with the idea of values into action.”
Reed said he particularly wanted to thank his own children, Paxton, Skye and Jasper who “endured being dragged around last summer to all the sites and provided sort of a kid’s view of what these sites have to offer.”
A teacher and Hartford School Board chairman, Rep. Kevin Christie, D-Hartford, talked about the history captured by the trail.
“This is one of those times you become very proud of being a Vermonter,” he said. “When you think about the history of Vermont throughout its endeavor to eradicate slavery and to work with President Lincoln during the Civil War, when every one of the original colonies was asked to participate in the war effort, they were asked to donate $500,000 per state. The state of Vermont said, ‘We’ll give $1 million.’”
William Hart, an associate professor of history at Middlebury College, said he was also pleased about the educational opportunities offered by the trail. He pointed out that Middlebury had an important place in history, graduating Alexander Twilight, the first black student to earn a bachelor’s degree in America, in 1823, and Martin Freeman, the man who became the first black college president in America, in 1849.
More information about the trail is available at www.vermontvacation.com.
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