Footsteps to You – Chattel Slavery opened this week at UC Riverside’s Special Collections and University Archives, located on the fourth floor of the Tomás Rivera Library. The exhibition, presented by the Black Voice Foundation, is curated by my niece Jordan Brown, a Mellon Fellow in the Curatorial Studies program at Spelman College. It features rare antebellum artifacts from the collection of Jerry Gore, a prominent historian who served as a docent on our Footsteps to Freedom Underground Railroad Study Tours for 20 years.
Most of the pieces featured in this exhibition were entrusted to us by his family. Brother Jerry developed a national reputation through his work in the preservation of Underground Railroad history in the Mason County area of Kentucky. His personal collection of artifacts was amassed over his lifetime and includes slave shackles, branding irons, rare newspapers, and first edition books, including William Still’s Underground Railroad.
The exhibition showcases these and other primary sources including bills of sale, slave tax receipts, and other legal documents that illustrate the role human chattel enslavement played in America’s economy.
Brother Jerry was not a man of tremendous means, but he devoted every spare dollar he had to acquiring these artifacts and we are honored to be the stewards of the collection. As a collector and historian he believed he had a special responsibility as a “keeper of the culture” to tell the story of bondage and the fight for freedom, and impart that knowledge to those of us who he knew would teach as well. My brother Hardy, who joins me on this journey, also believes it’s important that we partner with institutions like the UC Riverside Library to show the Gore Collection to a wider audience. He has scheduled busloads of students from numerous school districts in the region to view the collection while it’s on display.
We believe that seeing these rare materials will present an opportunity for discourse as well as a better understanding of the chattel slavery system that built this country. When students and other visitors see these artifacts, it’s not just show-and-tell. It’s a conversation.
“In 100 years, what do you want history to say about you? Were you on the right side – or the wrong side – of history?” Hardy wants visitors to ask themselves as they walk through the exhibition. “Even if something doesn’t affect you, are you willing to stand up and fight for what’s right?”
Please contact Hardy at firstname.lastname@example.org, if you’re interested in viewing the collection at UC Riverside. Or call our office at (951) 682-6070 for more information. It will be on display until March 30th.