Western MA Lawmaker Envisions African American Heritage Museum in Springfield

The Massachusetts Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Culture will hear testimony tomorrow from a Western Massachusetts lawmaker who has made a perennial effort to bring an African American heritage museum to downtown Springfield.

The Pioneer Valley was home to a number of well-known abolitionists like John Brown and Sojourner Truth — whose lives and legacies have been written about and preserved in museum exhibits and memorials. But Representative Benjamin Swan says their stories should be told as part of a collective history of African-Americans’ struggle for freedom and civil rights in the region.

“There’s no one location in Western Massachusetts that one can go to at this moment to research or to observe or to peruse a comprehensive history of the Underground Railroad.”

Swan says the National Park Service lists some houses involved with the Underground Railroad. But he says there are many stops that aren’t well documented — particularly those along the Housatonic and Farmington Rivers. Swan says he’s pushing to allocate 12-million dollars in the state budget for a museum and cultural center in Springfield — where research into these sites could continue. Swan has worked to include a similar act in many previous state budgets and he says last year the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Culture reported the bill favorably. The House Committee on Ways and Means is due to release its version of the state budget — with or without Swan’s proposal — on April 10th.