While the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center in Niagara Falls has been reopened since July, they have not been able to conduct any Freedom Conversation Tours. Prior to the pandemic, it was part of the daily routine at the Heritage Center. Now the tours are going virtual.
Due to its size, the Heritage Center is located within the Niagara Falls Amtrak Station, they do not have the space to conduct the tours with the proper social distancing in place. Joseph Malek, visitor experience specialist, at the Heritage Center said this is just a continuation of in person tours, but has been a welcome tool.
“It’s the same thing, we’ve taken some really cool technology called Matterport and it basically looks like Google Streetview,” Malek said. “We’re able to take visitors through the space and make them feel like they are walking through it and do the same tour we would have done otherwise, talking about slavery, talking about freedom seekers and connecting those gents to things that are going on today.”
Malek said the primary challenge in doing this was figuring out the best way for getting people to feel as though they were in the space. Some ideas were jostled around until this technology was brought up. He also said that it was quite an adjustment making people still feel present and making sure they felt as though they could talk freely like they would have gotten in the space.
In doing a practice tour with some friends, he was able to see different parts of the exhibit as opposed to simply looking at one piece and discussing that. The connections being made to current events primarily delve into the Freedom Seekers of the Underground Railroad and focusing on this that came up north.
“We recently had John Lewis Day,” Malek said. “We talked about the accomplishments and the struggles that Representative John Lewis went through. He was a freedom seeker. There are people today, the Black Lives matter protests, those are freedom seekers and additionally when you’re looking at the different things John Lewis faced or what were facing today, as a nation, facing racial injustices, those all stem from slavery. We make that important connection for folks and help them get there themselves in a lot of instances.”
For more information, visit https://www.niagarafallsundergroundrailroad.org/ .