Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Historic Harrisburg Association to host discussion on Underground Railroad locally

Local historians will discuss the Underground Railroad in Harrisburg. Pictured: The Commonwealth Monument, “A Gathering at the Crossroads”

Just in time for Black History Month, the Historic Harrisburg Association is giving the community the chance to reflect on Black history locally.

On Monday, HHA will host a free webinar on “The Underground Railroad in Harrisburg,” sponsored by The Foundation for Enhancing Communities.

The program will feature three prominent local historians—Barbara Barksdale, president of the Friends of Midland Cemetery; Calobe Jackson, longtime community leader, historian and author; and Norman Kelker, descendent of one of Harrisburg’s oldest families.

“Barbara, Calobe and Norman have been instrumental in helping Historic Harrisburg Association to expand its role in documenting, interpreting, publicizing and preserving Harrisburg’s rich African-American heritage,” said Dr. Dorothy King, retired professor of American Studies at Penn State Harrisburg and chair of HHA’s Education Committee.

These historians have worked for years on scholarly research and published writings, lecturing, reenactments of historical figures, and preservation of historic sites related to Harrisburg’s cultural heritage, HHA stated in a press release.

Barksdale’s Friends of Midland Cemetery is central Pennsylvania’s oldest known African-American cemetery and interment site of former slaves. U.S. Colored Troops from the Civil War and generations of community leaders are also buried there.

Last year, Jackson, at age 90, was honored by Historic Harrisburg for his lifetime of community service. He played a key role in creating Harrisburg’s first monument to Black heritage, the Commonwealth Monument at the Capitol Complex.

Kelker’s ancestor, Rudolph Frederick Kelker, was a leading abolitionist and operator of a “station” on the Underground Railroad in Harrisburg. Kelker Street in Uptown Harrisburg is named for Norman’s family, HHA said.

The three presenters will share stories from their research on the Underground Railroad in Harrisburg.

Additionally, February is the 48th anniversary of Historic Harrisburg Association’s founding, Executive Director David Morrison said. To celebrate, they plan to hold a campaign to raise money for the Midland Cemetery and the Commonwealth Monument.

“We are inviting HHA members and friends to honor Barbara Barksdale and Calobe Jackson by supporting their respective key initiatives to preserve African-American heritage,” said Morrison.

For more information, to access the Zoom presentation or to donate, visit HHA’s website.

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