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Madison County organization prepares to host anti-racism collaborative

National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum

A series of presentations this weekend in rural Madison County aims to urge people to take a deeper look at the roots of racism and how to end it. The anti-racism collaborative is hosted by the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum in Peterboro.

President Dorothy Willsey said the organization found out from previous, smaller programs that there was a hunger to learn more about what they call a second and ongoing abolition.

"People wanted to do something against racism, but also were reluctant to be in a parade, or to go to a protest," Willsey said. "And then knowing that in our own county, there were groups that were trying to build programs against racism, so as a national organization looking at our own rural county, we felt that we needed to try to at least pull people together, so perhaps we could share resources."

Many Central New Yorkers might not know that Peterboro was the place where abolitionists formed New York State Anti-Slavery Society in 1835. Willsey said they were mobbed out of Utica where they first tried to meet.

"Gerrit Smith, the wealthy abolitionist, said, 'Come on over to Peterboro,' and so 400 of the 600 delegates walked or rode a carriage — or some went by canal boat to Canastota — and ended up here," Willsey said.

Willsey said that history serves as a backdrop for what they hope people take away from Saturday’s series of presentations. One of them will explain five "Power of the Pen" campaigns, including one about removing words from the 13th amendment that outlawed slavery but still allowed prison labor.

“That has been misused and misconstrued up until this very day when municipalities and businesses are using prisoners for free labor or very low-paid labor,” Willsey said.

Registration begins at 1:30 p.m.; the first presentation is at 2 p.m. Masks and proof of vaccination are required.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at