The 200th anniversary of the birth of Philadelphia activist William Still offers an exceptional opportunity to consider his remarkable life and legacy. Born to formerly enslaved parents on 7 October 1821, Still is best known for his work with the Underground Railroad. A clerk at the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, he was for many years the chair of the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee, which offered direct aid to fugitives from slavery. Together with his wife Letitia Still, William Still provided domestic comforts and care to hundreds of refugees, visitors, and long-term guests in their Philadelphia household.
October 2021 provides an opportunity to commemorate Still’s birth by thinking historically and broadly about Black American activism as well as the plight and persistence of refugees from violence and terror. These allied topics are highlighted in Still’s efforts to document family connections among people whose escapes from slavery resulted in separations and to honor refugees’ requests for assistance in bringing spouses and children to safety. Still spearheaded resistance to the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 and chronicled these efforts through his careful record-keeping and publications. He also supported Black civil rights, leading a successful fight against segregation on Philadelphia’s streetcars.
The conference will feature keynote addresses by historians Mia Bay (University of Pennsylvania) and Martha Jones (John Hopkins University).
This event will convene entirely online. It is free and open to the public, though pre-registration is required.