(WBRE/WYOU-TV) We begin our Hidden History Journey in Susquehanna County at The Center for Anti-Slavery Studies based in Montrose. Perhaps you’ve never heard of “CASS” as it’s known. Its dedicated staff works to research and preserve the history of African Americans whose dangerous journey to freedom took them to or through Pennsylvania and a new home. Eyewitness News Anchor and Reporter Mark Hiller explains their mission to highlight African Americans’ hidden Pennsylvania history.
Photo of the historic house of worship in Montrose which Sherman Wooden points out is part of an exhibit you’ll find at the Center for Anti-Slavery Studies or CASS for short. The now-vacant church which was significant to the anti-slavery movement served as an impetus of sorts in 1996 when CASS set out on its mission.
“Maybe we need to start telling the story so that people who are coming here may find out.” Said Sherman Wooden, President of CASS
The story starts with former British citizens who sought freedom themselves from England and found it in the heart of Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna County.
“They were feeling that no man should own a servant.” Said Wooden
Several Montrose properties — including the more than two century old Silver Lake Bank building which now houses CASS — were used as safe houses where escaped slaves who fled the south on a life-or-death journey took comfort and shelter.
“They were all heading towards Canada but they were finding along the way that there were communities and people who would support them, hide them and they could work there” Explains Wooden
While many ultimately continued on to live in a free Canada, dozens of runaway slaves decided to stay in Montrose. They experienced freedom and practiced their faith at Zion AME Church which welcomed black worshippers for generations before permanently closing in 1975.
“So this is one reason that CASS wanted to expand its work not just with the AME Zion Church but to include the Underground Railroad activity that had taken place both with the fugitives and the abolitionists” Explained Cindy Wooden, Secretary CASS
Abolitionists like Reverend Jermaine Wesley Loguen. The former slave-turned-preacher formed African American Episcopal churches and helped usher slaves to safety. But it took research to reveal his Susquehanna County connection.
“I became fascinated with him and his family and his work in my church, the AME Zion Church and I was like, I was livid that why didn’t we already know this.” Said Brenda Cave-James — Board Member, CASS
Independent Researcher and CASS Board Member Brenda Cave-James is herself, a descendant of slaves who made the Montrose area their home.
“And so this was very personal to me” Stressed Brenda Cave-James — Board Member, CASS
CASS’s first floor is filled with exhibits of the events, places and people behind the region’s rich anti-slavery movement throughout a ten county area of northeastern Pennsylvania
The work here at CASS will soon expand to the second floor where space currently used for storage will be converted into a conference room to attract speakers from near and far.
The mission of CASS also includes acquiring sites in the community to preserve and shed light on what for too long was hidden history.
“It’s the real interesting thing that we want to be that in sight to let people know what has happened,” said Wooden.
Learn more about CASS Click Here