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Eleutherian College's Fall Celebration

Historic college to hold
annual fundraising event
in Lancaster


The college was an important
Underground Railroad stop

By Lela Jane Bradshaw
Contributing Writer

Whenever guests arrive at Eleutherian College, they are getting a glimpse of the past as the school building rises before them.
The Eleutherian Institute was founded in 1848 by a group of abolitionists and the two-story limestone building that housed the college was built by 1854. The college saw men and women, black and white studying together and also served as an important stop for many escaping slaves on the Underground Railroad. Standing in the shadow of the school, it is easy to imagine the passion for freedom of those who worked to change individual lives and society as a whole during the abolitionist movement.

Sue Livers

File photo by Don Ward

Madison’s Sue Liver
s portrays Patsy
Harris, wife of Chapman
Harris, an Underground
Railroad conductor
in the 1860s.

“It’s an amazing sight to see this beautiful building up on the hill,” says Larry DeBuhr, board member for Historic Eleutherian College Inc.
During the Eleutherian College Fall Celebration on Sept. 21-23, visitors will have the opportunity to learn more about one dynamic family though the performance of Sue Livers. She shares her deep love for the Harris family by appearing in character and costume as Patsy Harris.
Harris was the wife of Chapman Harris, who served as a conductor on the Underground Railroad. “I talk about my responsibilities as the wife of an Underground Railroad Conductor and minister,” she says.
While Livers sometimes gives straightforward historical talks, she prefers appearing in character and speaking in the first person about a family that endured and triumphed over slavery. “I like being Patsy. I like talking as if I am right there,” she says. She says she has found her heart racing as she considered the fear Harris must have felt for her nine children in light of the danger that the family could have faced lynching for assisting escaping slaves.
Friday, Sept. 21, will be devoted to school tours and the public is invited to come out to the weekend events of tours, presentations, good music and family fun. Activities will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday and at 1 p.m. Sunday. Several experts in area history will be giving educational talks. These include Jeannine Kreinbrink, Northern Kentucky Professor of Archeology who will be speaking about her work excavating slave pens in Kentucky; Denise Dallmer, also of NKU who teaches a graduate class on the Underground Railroad; and Mark Furnish, who is doing graduate work in history at Purdue.
A Civil War re-enactment group has been invited to attend, and the Jefferson County Preservation Council will have a display of stone tools from prehistoric burial mounds available for viewing. On Saturday, the public is invited to pack a picnic supper and enjoy a musical evening.
DeBuhr says that the board hopes to have three or four groups performing beginning about 6:30 p.m. Those interested in the college should be sure to take advantage of the Celebration. This will be the last time the college will be open for tours this year. Plans are in the works for expanded programming, including a lecture series for 2013.
Livers explains her fascination with the Harris family and the Underground Railroad saying, “I’ve always been interested in history. The more I talked about it, the more I wanted to know.”
While in college, Livers said that she “had the opportunity to spend time with many notable people and one just happened to be Martin Luther King. He inspired me to want to know more about my history and culture and how things came to be.”
Over the years, she has become so involved with with her research that “it seems like I’ve always known (Chapman Harris,) like I’ve always been a part of that family I’ve put myself in the middle of.”
Livers believes that Eleutherian College has a role to play in telling “an important story that warrants being told.” She explains that “it is important for us to realize that slaves did not just sit back and accept being enslaved.” She believes that slaves and freed blacks of the era are too often mistakenly viewed as being uniformly poor and uneducated people who were not active participants in efforts to free them.
While a slave, Patsy Harris was expected to tutor her owner’s children and therefore she went to school with them. “So she spoke very good English. She could read anything.”
Livers explains that one of the things Chapman Harris, himself a businessman and minister, appreciated about his wife was the fact that she was so intelligent. By portraying Patsy Harris in character, Livers is able to give voice to an educated black woman of the 1800s.
Livers says she finds it interesting to reflect on the fact that in 1856 there were blacks and whites studying together at Eleutherian. But when she first began attending school in the 1950s, she found herself in a segregated education system. She sees the work of Eleutherian College as a “light in the darkness.” “It’s not just a site, it is alive. It was part of who we are, it is us, it is real.” she

• Eleutherian College is located at 6927 W. State Road 250 in Madison. For more information, please call 812-866-7291.

Rivers Institute to sponsor bike ride

As part of the Eleutherian Fall Celebration, the Rivers Institute at Hanover College and the Madison Area Bicycle Club plan to hold a “Ride Through History” on Saturday, Sept. 22.
Eleutherian College was founded by the Neil’s Creek Anti-Slavery Society in 1848 and admitted both African-Americans and women in the years before the Civil War. The main route is 32 miles and passes through Deputy, Paris Crossing and Commiskey, Ind. An alternate route of 24 miles is also available. Historic sites along the way include several cemeteries, an Indian burial mound, the James Covered Bridge, and the Graham Presbyterian & Hopewell Baptist churches.
Check-in begins at 7:30 a.m. The final sweep of the course will be at approximately 3 p.m. to allow riders to enjoy the music and other activities taking place at the college. Food will be available on the course. Riders may register by sending their name and contact information to me via email to: weiss@hanover.edu.

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