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Underground Railroad Center's Backers Say Paper's Challenges Added Incentive To Prove Local History

Bill Bradberry, president and chair of the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Commission, speaks May 4, 2018 at the grand opening of the Underground Railroad Heritage Center.

BUFFALO, NY (WBFO) - As Niagara Falls celebrates the opening of a new center celebrating its role in the Underground railroad movement, some of those behind the project say they were given a little extra incentive thanks to newspaper stories questioning the legitimacy of Niagara Falls' connection to the slavery freedom trail.

The Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center celebrates the people and places that played some part in helping thousands of escaped African-American slaves complete their journey to freedom across the Niagara River into Canada. Harriet Tubman, who also kept a residence in Auburn, New York, is credited with assisting some of those escapees across the former International Suspension Bridge.

But over the last several years, including as recently as 2016, a weekly newspaper known for its criticism of Niagara Falls and New York State governments openly questioned the extent of the region's role.

Among the questions raised by the late Mike Hudson was whether Harriet Tubman actually set foot in Niagara Falls.

These articles, say individuals backing the Underground Railroad Heritage Center's planning and construction, further motivated them as they did their own research to prepare the center for its opening.

"Having a counterpoint out there gave us additional incentive to be clear about the actual history, to make it bulletproof, to do the necessary research, so that anybody who wanted to attack it would basically bounce off the legitimate history of Niagara Falls and Western New York with regard to the Underground Railroad," said Bill Bradberry, Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Commission president and chair. "It's all very real."

Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster identified researchers including Bradberry, Dr. Lillian Williams (University at Buffalo), Dr. Thomas Chambers (Niagara University), Canadian historian Dr. Karolyn Smardz Frost and Dr. Judith Wellman for working to develop what he and others firmly believe is proof positive of the Niagara region's place in history.

"It took a long time to get this project done but in the process, so much scholarship went on that we had better stories to tell at the end of it than we would have to tell if we'd have built the thing ten years ago," Mayor Dyster said.

Hudson passed away in October 2017. The Niagara Falls Reporter also, meanwhile, also published an article in 2009 by Bob Kostoff, crediting Lockport-based Quaker George Goinesas playing an active role in the abolitionist movement.