Shortly before a rally kicked off on Saturday at Dow Park in Jamestown, Mayville resident Jane Chambers paused for a moment to examine the Underground Railroad painting.
The now two-part monument honors Silas Shearman, the recognized leader of the Underground Railroad line through Jamestown, and Catherine Harris, a free black woman and station master whose home on West Seventh Street is the site of a historical marker. The statues were recently vandalized with felt-tip hate messages.
A third statue was stolen earlier this spring, and it’s still unclear where it is.
“It is distressing the damage caused to the memorial”, said Chambers, one of some 100 people who attended the rally organized by the Jamestown Justice Coalition.
Among those who spoke on Saturday was Paul Leone, a local historian who described Jamestown’s important role in the Underground Railroad movement and why the painting matters.
Falconer resident Nancy Kingsley was among many interviewed in the park who said they were bothered by the vandalism and wanted to show their support. ” It is not fair “ she said of what was drawn on the statues.
The Jamestown Police Department said last week it was investigating the incident with help from the FBI. The vandalism included the design of a swastika and the words “White power” on the statues created by the late David Poulin.
At the time of the incident, Police Chief Timothy Jackson said: “The act of hateful, racist and anti-Semitic vandalism on the Underground Railroad board is hateful and morally reprehensible. “
Jamestown resident Mary Avery said she supports the Jamestown Justice Coalition’s efforts to shed light on recent events – seen by some as escalation from the previous robbery – and to organize a rally to educate the public. Regarding the recent vandalism, she said, “I am appalled by what happened to the statues. It is sad to think that someone would damage them.
Justin Hubbard of the Coalition asked those in attendance how many of them had heard of the local Underground Railroad movement at school.
“I keep hearing it must be just kids” Hubbard said, “But if it was just a few kids, we need to take a look at what we’re teaching our kids. Because when something like this happens, when our statues are stolen, when symbols of white supremacy and racist remarks are put on our statues, it is an attack on the black community of Jamestown. This is exactly what it is, you attack the black community of Jamestown, and when you attack the black community of Jamestown, you attack all of Jamestown.
Hubbard said he was participating in a racial injustice roundtable at Chautauqua Institution when he learned the Underground Railroad painting had been disfigured. He said it was no coincidence that a statue was recently stolen and that Dow Park was the site of several rallies for black lives last year. “It is not a coincidence,” he said. “It’s not a random act. And when something like this happens, we can’t be scared and shut up. “
Anyone with information regarding vandalism or theft is asked to call the Jamestown Police Department at 483-7537 or the Anonymous Advice Line at 483-8477.