Short Biographies of Invited Presenters


Jason E. Allen is the executive director of the Camden County Historical Society in Camden, NJ and on the Board of Directors of Historians against Slavery.

Joe Becton is the Founder and Director of Becton Tours and Historical Services, was a Park Ranger Supervisor at Independence N.H.P., Director of Visitor Services at Historic Fort Mifflin, cofounder of the 3rd Regiment United States Colored Troops Civil War reenactors, and the First Rhode Island Regiment American Revolutionary war reenactors. He is a member of the Association for the Study of African-American History, the Pennsylvania Historical Society and has taught on Africans and Civil War in Philadelphia. Joe planned, researched, developed and implemented the Underground Railroad tour for Independence National Historic Park and served as an advisor for Oh Freedom, a traveling exhibit for the State of New Jersey: Africans in Revolution from New Jersey. He has published articles on the African American participation in the Revolutionary War and the Civil War such as the Black Regiment and the Defense of Philadelphia for the Council of American Revolutionary War Sites (C.A.R.S.), a biographic note on Windsor Fry in the Oxford African American National Dictionary of Biography and the Historical foreword to Lamont Steptoe’s “Meditations in Congo Square”.


blocksonCharles L. Blockson is co-founder of the African American Museum in Philadelphia, a founding member of the Pennsylvania Black History Committee and a past President of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society. He is author of 12 books and many articles including Escape from Slavery: The Underground Railroad for National Geographic Magazine.


Bob Brand has had the good fortune to be able to pursue a career that fit with a commitment to justice and equality. His involvement n the Civil Rights Movement while in high school in a suburb of New York included work opposing an urban renewal project designed to remove people of color from a village, conducting studies of employment discrimination at Grumman Aircraft and work on organizing migrant workers living in conditions of peonage. He came to Philadelphia to study democratic resource allocation and ended up staying. His first trip to Mississippi was to be part of the crew which built the community center of Strike City, a building that hosted the first integrated Head Start program in Mississippi. He returned the next year to be part of the Meredith March Against Fear. Brand was on the staff of Philadelphia Resistance and had his draft notice cancelled when he was arrested on trumped up charges of attacking two US Marshals and was therefore considered too violent for the armed forces. HE has spent his work life in trade union, technology and policy areas on issues of inequality, poverty and exclusion as well as on how to use publicly influenced capital to build the economy and society we need. His photography and graphic work can be seen at

Diane Brown is a composer, actress, guitarist, producer, director and community activist.  She has worked with WHAT, WDAS and B 101 FM and was inducted into The African American Legends Hall of Fame.

Lorene Cary is author of Black Ice, The Price of a Child, Pride and FREE! Great Escapes on the Underground Railroad. She is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania and founded Art Sanctuary.

Liz M. Chacko is Supervising Attorney at Friends of Farmworkers,  member of the South Asian Bar Association and the National Lawyers Guild.

V. Chapman-Smith is a national strategist for education and public programs at the National Archives and district coordinator for National History Day Philadelphia (NHD Philly). She was an advisor for Pennsylvania’s Quest for Freedom Program, PHMC’s Historical Marker Program and the Seaport Museum’s exhibit Tides of Freedom.

Christopher Densmore is Curator, Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College, Vice President of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society and on the Board of Friends Historical Association

Melvin Garrison was the American history specialist in the School District of Philadelphia’s Office of Curriculum and Instruction.

Judith Geisberg is Professor of History and Director of Graduate Program at Villanova University, author of Army at Home and co-editor of Emilie Davis’s Civil War: The Diaries of a Free Black Woman in Philadelphia, 1863-1865.

Rashad Grove is Pastor of The First Baptist Church of Wayne (6th Generation Baptist minister), co-author of Empowered to Serve, and is a Senator to the Ministers Council of the American Baptist Churches USA.

J. Jondhi Harrell, who returned to society in 2009 after serving 18 years on a 20 yr. federal sentence, is the founder and Executive Director of TCRC (The Center for Returning Citizens). He earned and Associates degree while incarcerated, a BS in Human Service Management from University of Phoenix upon release, and is currently enrolled in Temple University’s Master of Social Work program.

In recognition of his accomplishments, Harrell was named Goodwill Industries International’s 2013 Kenneth Shaw Graduate of the Year. Jondhi Harrell is an accomplished speaker lecturing at churches, community events, and conducting seminars and workshops at area colleges and universities. He typically addresses his work with Decarcerate Pa, TCRC, his personal experiences in the Federal Prison system, and his role in organizing CAMI (Coalition Against Mass Incarceration), and the BLOC Party. TCRC and CAMI are at the center of the movement to forge the thousands of returning citizens in the city of Philadelphia and across the state into a collective, effective coalition. This movement, which includes the BLOC Party (Build Lobby Organize Campaign), seeks to empower, educate and organize returning citizens into a cultural, social, political, and economic force. Under his leadership, TCRC as an organization offers services which comprehensively and effectively addresses the unique issues of formerly incarcerated individuals. Mr. Harrell’s goal is to incorporate elements of CAMI, TCRC, the BLOC Party, and Decarcerate into a national movement which will effectively combat the effects of mass incarceration.

Kim and Reggie Harris combine a strong folk and gospel legacy with a solid background in classical, rock, jazz and pop music. Their CDs Steal Away and Get On Board and  their work with the Kennedy Center have earned wide acclaimed for their contributions on the Underground Railroad and the modern civil rights movement.

Sister Teresita Hinnegan, a member of the Medical Mission Sisters, founded the Center for the Empowerment of Women in Philadelphia for women who have been exploited and to fight against violence against women and Dawn’s Place, a shelter for former sex trade workers.

Nzadi Zimele Keita is a poet, fiction writer, and educator, teaches creative writing at Ursinus College and conducts creative writing workshops for the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

Phillip S. Lapsansky arrived in 1971 with an intense interest in African American history and culture born of his involvement in the civil rights struggle of the 1960s, and with an acute intellectual curiosity, but without any archival expertise beyond a love of books. He was hired by former Library Company director Edwin Wolf 2d. Over more than two years, Laspsansky searched the shelves – he calls it “stack ratting” – ultimately producing Afro-Americana, 1553-1906: Author Catalog of the Library Company of Philadelphia and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, a bibliographical record hat helped make the city a mecca for scholars of black history. “Just rummaging through the stacks,” he called it. “It was very pleasurable.” “In those years, I’m not aware of any other institution in the rare book field going … after this stuff. It was the unwanted child of academia,” he said. “Now we have African American studies all over the place.” Activism during the 1950s and ’60s pushed the change, Lapsansky says. “People wanted to know. They started looking at a whole new set of questions about the nature of race and slavery.” Over his tenure, and with a modest budget, Lapsansky has been able to acquire quite a few “charming acquisitions,” as he calls them. The collection now numbers more than 13,000 items.

Emma Lapsansky-Werner is Professor of History Emeritus at Haverford College, where she was Curator of the Quaker Collection and author and editor of several books including The Struggle for Freedom: A History of African Americans

Cynthia Little is Treasurer of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, she has worked with the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Area Cultural Consortium, Greater Philadelphia Tourism and Marketing and the Civil War History Consortium.

Norman Thomas Marshall is a veteran of 32 years as a professional actor and  portrays John Brown in the one-man production of John Brown: Trumpet of Freedom.

Randall Miller is professor of history at Saint Joseph’s University, editor of The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, coeditor of The Dictionary of Afro-American Slavery and coauthor of Ethnic and Racial Images in American Film and Television. He speaks often on politics and government; the Civil War and, Reconstruction; power and class in America; and slavery and the Old South.

Richard Newman is Director of the Library Company, Professor of History at Rochester Institute of Technology and biographer of African Methodist Episcopal Church founder Richard Allen.

Kate Oxx is assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Saint Joseph’s University, Member of the American Academy of Religion, the American Society of Church History and the American Catholic Historical Society.

Larry Rubin – It was my parents’ fault. I was born with my heart and soul dedicated to social change, although when I got into trouble in the South, they told me that they had never meant for me, personally, to be in danger – just that someone should do the work. Mississippi: Again with the walking down red clay roads and trying to help people get the courage to register, despite the fact that they would probably lose their jobs, and might lose their homes or lives. By and large, the African-American Community did not respond to Red-baiting, mostly because they did not believe anything the white establishment said. I have the usual stories to tell of being beaten, arrested, chased, shot at, and once driven alone into the woods by a deputy sheriff, who had previously arrested and beaten me. (He scared me half to death, but just wanted to tell me his brother worked at the brick making factory and that although the whites would not sign the cards, they would vote “yes” in the election. They did.)

The Still Family are decedents of William Still who live in New Jersey and are active in preserving his memory and heritage.

Vickie Still, a great-great-great niece of William Still who wrote “The Underground Railroad”. Her relationship comes in with Williams’s brother Samuel Sr. When William Still left for Philadelphia, Samuel was in charge of his parents Levin Sr. and Charity in Indian Mills, N.J. This is where Levin Sr. and Charity settled after escaping to continue with their family life in freedom. After some time, Vickie’s Grandfather Samuel and his wife Cora inherited the homestead and raised 14 children. Vickie is the daughter of Florence. The homestead had close to 500 acres and a tenant dwelling for Polish workers. Later on they moved to Mt. Holly, N.J.

Vickie produced a DVD called, “The Still Family…Bridging Gaps-Connecting History”, the Timbuctoo Project in Westampton, N.J. – a free slave settlement. A.S.A.L.A. – The Association for the Study of African American Life and History; The Philadelphia Heritage Branch.

Janice L. Sumler-Edmond, professor of History at Huston-Tillotson University and director of the W. E. B. DuBois Honors Program. She is author of three books, a dissertation on the Forten family, and articles on the Forten-Purvis women, former national director of the Association of Black Women Historians, member of the Organization of American Historians,  and the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.

Beverly Tomek is Adjunct Professor at University of Houston-Victoria, author of Pennsylvania Hall: A “Legal Lynching” in the Shadow of the Liberty Bell and Colonization and its Discontents: Emancipation, Emigration, and antislavery in Antebellum Pennsylvania. She was a Fellow in African-American History at the Library Company and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Diane Turner is curator of the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection at Temple University, serves as Course Director for the Bard College Clemente Course in the Humanities,  is developing materials for the “Lest We Forget” Museum of African American Slavery, is a former professor of black studies at Camden County College and Rowan University, and is author of My Name is Oney Judge and Feeding the Soul: Black Music, Black Thought.

Sandra Turner-Barnes is Executive Director of the Camden County Cultural & Heritage Commission and author of Beyond the Back of the Bus, a children’s book about Rosa Parks, But, Mostly Love, a book of poetry, and the  jazz CD September Will Never Be the Same. She co-wrote For the Healing of the Nations, a  jazz suite for those lost on 9/11.

Mark Kelly Tyler serves as the 52nd pastor of Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church on the corner of 6th and Lombard Streets, the oldest continuously owned property by black Americans. He is a faculty member at Payne Theological Seminary, New Brunswick Theological Seminary, and Methodist Theological School.

Heather Andrea Williams is the sixth Presidential Professor and Professor of Africana Studies in the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania; and author of Self-Taught: African-American Education in Slavery and Freedom and Help Me to Find My People: The African American Search for Family Lost in Slavery.

Reverend Joe Williams is pastor of the Mount Airy United Fellowship Church and a former member of  the gospel group The Dixie Hummingbirds.

Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon is an Associate Professor in the Theater Department in the Division of Theater, Film and Media Arts at Temple University. She is an anthropologist, journalist, poet and playwright.


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