Talking with the presenters of Footsteps to You: Chattel Slavery, the visiting exhibition currently in the UC Riverside Special Collections department, revealed some noteworthy facts about Black History and the City of Riverside.
Riverside had many interesting connections to Black history at the turn of the last century, according to Dr. Paulette Brown-Hinds, Publisher of and Steward of the Gore Collection for the Black Voice Foundation, which was responsible for bringing the exhibition to the UCR Library. One of the most intriguing was the friendship between the American educator, author, and US presidential advisor Booker T. Washington and the Mission Inn’s founder Frank Miller.
Miller grew up in an environment sympathetic to the anti-slavery movement, Brown-Hinds explained. Frank Miller’s parents Christopher Columbus Miller and Maryanne Miller attended Oberlin College and lived in Oberlin, Ohio, a town known for its strong stance and equally aggressive actions against the peculiar institution of slavery. The Millers relocated to Riverside and founded a tavern that Frank eventually grew into the Historic Mission Inn Hotel and Spa.
“During our Footsteps to Freedom Underground Railroad study tour, we annually travel to Oberlin and that’s how we learned about Frank Miller’s connection to abolitionist activity,” added Hardy Brown II, chairman of the Black Voice Foundation. “We’ve always been aware of Booker T. Washington’s connection to Frank Miller, but didn’t realize Miller’s early influences in the cause of African-American freedom.”
“Our mother former Assemblymember Cheryl Brown was friends with Washington’s granddaughter Edith, and she introduced us to other members of her family including Kenneth Morris, who is also a direct descendant of abolitionist and statesman Frederick Douglass,” Brown commented. “Kenny is now a docent on our tour.”
In 2004 the Brown family spearheaded the effort to raise money to commission the bust of Washington that was unveiled at the Mission Inn. “We wanted to commemorate their friendship and the spirit of cooperation it represented,” Dr. Brown-Hinds said.
Dr. Brown-Hinds believes that the connection between Miller and Washington was strengthened by coming from a community like Oberlin. “Christopher Columbus Miller was very much influenced by the president of the college at the time,” she said. “He was very progressive in his thinking when it came to slavery.”
These unique connections to local history and to Black history are just two among the many reasons for the UCR community to visit the exhibition in Special Collections & University Archives on the fourth floor of Tomás Rivera Library. “Each one of these pieces are ones that people would not see at a normal Black History program,” said Brown.
To enrich the experience of visiting the exhibition, Brown plans to bring in different speakers on the events and history surrounding the abolitionist period, which are represented in many of the exhibition’s primary sources. Information about the speakers and the event schedule are available by request.
Additionally, Brown plans to be on-site when local schools bring their students for scheduled tours of the exhibition, to answer questions about the items featured. He has also created interactive display cards with QR codes throughout the exhibition to provide a more dynamic experience for unscheduled visitors.
Footsteps to You: Chattel Slavery, focuses on highlights of Underground Railroad materials from the private collection of Jerry Gore, which has been entrusted to the Black Voice Foundation. The exhibition is available for viewing in the UC Riverside Special Collections Department on the fourth floor of Tomás Rivera Library on weekdays from 11:00 am until 4:00 pm until Friday, March 30. Those interested in scheduling a guided tour of the exhibition should contact Hardy Brown II by email at Hardy@bvfoundation.org or by calling (909) 682-7070.