Combating attempts of elision: African American accomplishments at New Philadelphia, Illinois

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter examines the ways in which individuals negotiated the complex terrain of past landscapes that were impacted by the institution of slavery and racial ideologies. Present perspectives on such past dynamics are shaped by related concepts of heritage and history. A particular social group's construction of their cultural heritage often entails a selective emphasis on specific subjects within their history. This selective process of heritage construction includes instances of elision and omission as well as those of remembrance and commemoration. In particular, within their histories, some social groups have undertaken efforts to effect an erasure of the accomplishments and self-determination of others in the context of racial strife and deployment of racial ideologies. These dynamics are manifest in the accomplishments of Frank McWorter, an individual born into slavery in the United States in 1777, who succeeded in attaining freedom for himself and his family (Walker 1983). In 1836, McWorter also founded New Philadelphia, Illinois, the first U.S. town planned and legally registered by an African American. As this town grew as an interracial community in a region shaped by racial strife, the McWorter family also assisted other African Americans to escape bondage. New Philadelphia faced decline, however, after it was bypassed by a railroad in 1869 as a result of the impacts of structural and systemic racism. Facets of the histories of theMcWorters and New Philadelphia are examined here in relation to varying structures of heritage commemoration, including efforts in the United States to memorialize and celebrate the accomplishments of the "Underground Railroad" of persons escaping bondage in the nineteenth century. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has also engaged in efforts to address the legacies of slavery and the need for safeguarding the tangible and intangible aspects of cultural heritage. But when examined in relation to one another, these various efforts present as much paradox as promise. The problematic characteristics of the concepts of culture and intangible heritage utilized by UNESCO are highlighted when comparing them to facets of African American history in the United States.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationIntangible Heritage Embodied
EditorsHelaine Silverman, D. Fairchild Ruggles
Number of pages22
ISBN (Print)9781441900715
StatePublished - 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences
  • General Arts and Humanities


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