Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

Press Release

November 13, 2018

New York State Announces Grand Opening of New York State Equal Rights Heritage Center in Auburn

Highlights New York's Progressive History of Promoting Social and Equal Rights

Opening Features Unveiling of Commemorative Statue of Harriet Tubman

Complements "CNY Rising" - The Region's Comprehensive Strategy to Revitalize Communities and Grow the Economy

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the grand opening of the New York State Equal Rights Heritage Center in Auburn, Cayuga County. The Center serves to emphasize New York State's progressive history of promoting social and equal rights, celebrate New York's equal rights pioneers, and encourage tourism at the region's many attractions and destinations. The $10 million Center is funded and supported through the Governor's Central NY Rising Initiative, the region's comprehensive strategy to revitalize communities and grow the economy.

"New York's history is rich with progressive champions who fought for justice and equality for all, and it is critical that we honor those whose heroic efforts forged a better path for everyone," Governor Cuomo said. "New York is the progressive capital of the nation and as we continue leading the way to ensure full equality, the Equal Rights Heritage Center will serve as a poignant reminder of these important pioneers and inspire us all to keep up the fight."

"As the home to great New Yorkers like Harriet Tubman and William Seward, the City of Auburn's completion of the Equal Rights Heritage Center serves as a proud symbol for honoring those trailblazers and the many others who fought for justice and freedom," said Lieutenant Governor Hochul. "As chair of the Women's Suffrage Commission, I am especially pleased that we can continue to find new ways to showcase the ideas, determination and sacrifices of these great historical figures."

The New York State Equal Rights Heritage Center is located in the City of Auburn's South Street National Register District, across from Memorial City Hall and next to the William H. Seward House Museum. To celebrate the opening of the Center, the Lieutenant Governor was joined by State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey and several community leaders, who toured the Center and unveiled a commemorative Statue of Harriet Tubman, one of New York States greatest equal rights pioneers, at the entrance.

The 7,500-square foot facility includes interactive maps and videos that will educate and highlight the role the State and New Yorkers have played in the struggle for women's rights, abolition, civil rights and the more recent efforts for LGBTQ rights. Visitors will be offered an intimate look at equal rights heroines and heroes who have rallied, sung, and spoke eloquently in their efforts to broaden the definition of human rights in ways that have impacted the entire nation.

Inside the Center visitors can use a listening booth to hear speeches by key figures arguing for an end to slavery, the equality of women, and equal treatment for people of all races, abilities and sexual orientations. New recordings of historic speeches were created with the local community, in addition to other ways that New Yorkers have raised their voices in support of equal rights featuring songs ranging from historic spirituals to contemporary anthems.

At the heart of the Center, the Social Justice Table invites visitors to learn about events that are tied to the history of these equal rights attractions. An immersive map video invites all to learn about the types of attractions throughout the state including homes of famous New Yorkers, sites along the "Underground Railroad," the location of the birth of the women's rights movement in Seneca Falls, and a wide range of interpretive centers. The interactive exhibits offer visitors the opportunity to orient themselves in relationship to the attractions and plan upcoming trips.

The seven-and-a-half-foot commemorative statue of Harriet Tubman adorns the entrance to the Heritage Center and depicts the young freedom fighter traveling by night amid one of her great journeys, holding out a cautionary hand to her followers as she leads them to freedom. The statue was donated by the George and Mary Cuthbert Family of Auburn, and created by famed sculptor Brian Hanlon who designed the statue to embrace Tubman's heroism, bravery and fortitude. Native landscaping, pavers and seating also complement the entrance and provides visitors with the opportunity of solitude to reflect upon New York's progressive history of social and equal rights.

State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey said, "With the completion of the Equal Rights Heritage Center, the public now has a place where the legacies of those pioneers who fought for civil rights, women's rights, human rights, and equal rights for all, can learn about the struggles and injustices that those trailblazers endured in order to pave a better path for future generations. Thanks to Governor Cuomo, the Center and the City of Auburn will become a symbolic destination for travelers to reflect and pay homage to those who made sacrifices in seeking out equality and freedom."

Empire State Development President, CEO & Commissioner Howard Zemsky said, "The Equal Rights Heritage Center showcases the state's proud legacy of progressive reforms and equal rights and will encourage visitors to learn about the people—and travel to the places—that helped shape the New York State of today."

Senator Pam Helming said, "From the women's rights movement to the abolition of slavery, the history of the City of Auburn and the Finger Lakes region is rich with the stories of men and women fighting for their equal rights as American citizens. I can think of no better way to pay tribute to the efforts and struggles of people like Harriet Tubman, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frederick Douglass, and others than by establishing the New York State Equal Rights Heritage Center. It is so exciting to be a part of the grand opening of this terrific beacon of local history and driver of local tourism after much determination and perseverance on behalf of so many people and organizations in our region. With its location next to the William H. Seward House Museum, this Center will undoubtedly tie in with other elements of the history that is alive and well throughout the Finger Lakes region and serve as a source of economic development for Auburn and all of our communities. I thank Governor Cuomo, Commissioner Harvey, Mayor Quill, and all those who made this possible."

Mayor of Auburn Michael D. Quill said, "We are excited to open the doors of the NYS Equal Rights Heritage Center in downtown Auburn, NY. We look forward to welcoming visitors to experience New York's equal rights heritage and all that Auburn and the Central NY-Finger Lakes region has to offer. We thank the Governor for his support of tourism development as a key part of our region's economic development. By strategically placing this center on the same street that William H. Seward and Harriet Tubman called home the Governor has raised our region's profile as a must see destination that will welcome travelers for years and years to come."

ESD provided an additional $600,000 grant for the center's exhibits. Taste NY will promote New York's food and beverage producers and provide visitors to the Equal Rights Heritage Center the opportunity to purchase locally-made grab-and-go snacks, such as chips, candies, and beverages, and unique New York-made gifts, including maple syrup, jams and jellies, goat milk soaps, cutting boards and candles.

State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball said, "Taste NY is proud to be a part of the new Equal Rights Heritage Center, which will educate visitors about our strong leaders who helped pave the path for equal rights, while helping to drive tourism to our communities. As part of the center, the new market gives us the opportunity to also feature our small farms and food and beverage businesses across the State, and promote New York State agriculture to a growing consumer population that wants to support buying local."

In addition to a $10 million Upstate Revitalization Grant for the construction and beautification of the Center, a grant through the Department of State's Local Water Revitalization Program and a grant from the Department of Transportation for traffic mitigation and road construction were also made available. The Equal Rights Heritage Center will be operated through a partnership with the Cayuga County Office of Tourism and the Auburn Downtown Business Improvement District and house a Taste NY Market featuring locally-sourced and produced food and beverages.

Today's grand opening of the New York State Equal Rights Heritage Center also coincides with the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage. The 14-member NYS Women's Suffrage Commission, commissioned by Governor Cuomo and chaired by Lieutenant Governor Hochul, is planning and executing a series statewide programs to commemorate the anniversary. The Commission began in 2017 and will continue through 2020, a century after the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which granted all women in the United States the right to vote.

For a guide to New York State's Equal Rights Destinations please click here.

Accelerating CNY Rising

Today's announcement complements "Central NY Rising," the region's comprehensive blueprint to generate robust economic growth and community development. The State has already invested more than $5.6 billion in the region since 2012 to lay the groundwork for the plan - capitalizing on global market opportunities, strengthening entrepreneurship and creating an inclusive economy. Today, unemployment is down to the lowest levels since before the Great Recession; personal and corporate income taxes are down; and businesses are choosing places like Syracuse, Oswego and Auburn as a destination to grow and invest in.

Now, the region is accelerating Central NY Rising with a $500 million State investment through the Upstate Revitalization Initiative, announced by Governor Cuomo in December 2015. The State's $500 million investment will incentivize private business to invest well over $2.5 billion - and the region's plan, as submitted, projects up to 5,900 new jobs. More information is available here.