"An Underground Railroad Monument Comes to Nyack," March 14 – May 31, 2015

Bench by the Road Sketch
Bench by the Road drawing, (c) Bill Batson

The Historical Society of the Nyacks presents an exhibition entitled An Underground Railroad Monument Comes to Nyack: Inspired by Toni Morrison, honoring Cynthia Hesdra. The exhibit will open on March 14th from 1 to 4 p.m. and will continue through May 31st every Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Historical Society’s Museum at 50 Piermont Avenue, Nyack.

This exhibit will showcase the upcoming Nyack “Bench by the Road” monument to the Underground Railroad and Cynthia Hesdra (1808 – 1879), and will explore Hesdra’s history as well as the accomplishments of Nobel Prize winning author and local resident Toni Morrison, whose quote inspired the Toni Morrison Society’s “Bench by the Road” program. In addition, photos and text describing “Bench by the Road” projects from around the world will create a compelling narrative about slavery and freedom.

The exhibition coincides with the dedication of Nyack’s Bench in Memorial Park on May 18th, 2015.

Cynthia Hesdra was a Nyack woman who rose from slavery to become an entrepreneur and abolitionist. She is listed as a conductor on the Underground Railroad in Nyack.

Cynthia Hesdra was born in Tappan, New York on March 6, 1808. Her father, John Moore, owned mills in the area. Newspaper reports following her death state that she was once held as a slave. After her freedom was secured, she went on to own and operate a laundry business in New York City and Nyack, and to acquire real estate in Greenwich Village and Nyack. When Hesdra died on February 9, 1879, her net worth was around $100,000, the equivalent of $2.3 million in today’s dollars.

On May 18, Nyack will become part of a global initiative of the Toni Morrison Society’s Bench by the Road Project. This program was inspired by the Nobel Prize winning author’s famous quotation about the lack of monuments commemorating slavery. Morrison stated: “There is no place you or I can go, to think about or not think about, to summon the presences of, or recollect the absences of slaves . . . There is no suitable memorial, or plaque, or wreath, or wall, or park, or skyscraper lobby. There’s no 300-foot tower, there’s no small bench by the road.”

There are 11 other benches around the world and more in the planning stage. Benches have been installed in locations including Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, Oberlin, Ohio, Concord, Massachusetts, Paris, France and Fort-de-France, Martinique. Nyack’s will be the 15th Bench in this program. For more information, please visit www.nyackbench.org

Honoring Cynthia Hesdra, Toni Morrison and the people in Nyack who risked everything to liberate those caught in slavery’s grip, the exhibit will include photographs, printed material, maps, timelines and historic objects, including an original New York slave deed from the 18th Century.

The exhibition is being curated by Historical Society of the Nyacks trustees Bill Batson and Jennifer Rothschild. For more information about the Historical Society of the Nyacks and to become a member, please visit www.nyackhistory.org.

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