Just north of the falls, there is a railway bridge that crosses the Niagara River. On the American side of the river is the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center. It is housed in the 1863 Customs House adjacent to the Amtrak station. Niagara Falls was the last stop of one the routes of the Underground Railway, a network of routes and safe houses used by enslaved Black Americans to escape to freedom. It was an established border crossing that was readily accessible via numerous transportation routes, including the Erie Canal. There was a well-established network of abolitionists and anti-slavery activists in western New York. It is estimated that between 30,000 and 40,000 freedom seekers settled in Canada.
below: “Enjoy this day that God has given us”, John Lewis (1940-2020) at the corner of Main and Depot in Niagara Falls NY. Lewis was a politician and civil rights activist. This mural was painted by Princessa Williams
below: “We rise by lifting others” by Ashley Kay. This mural honours Doris Jones who was the head of the Niagara Falls Housing Authority for 25 years. Painted in 2019.
below: Harriet Tubman and “A Light of Hope” by Madonna Pannell, 2019. This image references a crossing across the Niagara Suspension Bridge that Tubman made in 1856 with four freedom seekers. The bridge no longer exists but its remains can be seen from the Heritage Center.
below: “Historic Cataract House” by Imani Williamson. the Cataract Hotel was built on the banks of the Niagara River in 1825. It had a wait staff that was entirely African American and these Black waiters often led double lives as secret Underground Railroad agents.
below: “The time is always right to do what is right” by Muhammad Zaman. This is a quote from Martin Luther King Jr’s final sermon on 31st March 1968 at the National Cathedral in Washington DC. The calligraphy is in Bengali, Arabic, and English.
below: Saxophone player with words and music a mural by Edreys Wajed; a portrait of tenor saxophonist and jazz musician John “Spider” Martin.
below: Black Lives Matter, a mural by Ashley Kay and Tyshaun Tyson, 2020
below: Holding signs with slogans and phrases that became synonymous with Black Lives Matter, “Say their names” and “No Justice, No Peace”.
below: “The New Spirit of Niagara Falls” by Jonathan Rogers, 2019
below: Portrait of Calvin “Pop” Porter, a professional boxer, gym owner, and community leader by Jalen Law.
below: This long mural featuring portraits of a number of kids is the work of Sarah Zak.
below: Support All Women, a mural celebrating the empowerment of women, painted by Amira Moore.
below: Uhuru Love, aka Dr. Gloria Daniels Butler, was an artist, educator, and civil rights activist. She adopted the name Uhuru Love in 1965 – Swahili and English words meaning “freedom (is) love”. The mural was painted by Lashonda Davis.
below: “A Niagara Falls Love Story” by Tyshaun Tyson, 2019. Alice Hayes was an active member of the community (her biography is online) and her husband Charles B. Hayes was Niagara Falls first black physician when the couple arrived in the city in 1935.
below: Freedom seekers map, the routes to Niagara Falls. Painted by Natalia Suska, 2019
below: Channeling the energy from the falls to be put toward the pursuit of freedom. “The Niagara Movement” mural by Thomas Asklar and Matthew Conroy. The Niagara Movement was a black civil rights group founded in 1905 by W.E.B. Du Bois (pictured here) and William Monroe Trotter. It was named for the “mighty current” of change the group wanted to effect and took Niagara Falls as its symbol.
below: Aerosol Kingdom (aka Justin Suarez), “Girl with a Snail Earring”. 2021
below: A 2022 mural about Black history and the underground railroad in Niagara Falls in three scenes, painted by Abigail Lee Penfold.
More information: Niagara Falls Heritage Arts
Photos taken May 2023