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Mary Church Terrell Main Library
148 W College St. Oberlin, OH 44074-1545


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The Oberlin Sanctuary Project: Our History of Providing Hope and Opportunity

The Oberlin Sanctuary Project provides a forum for research, reflection, and discussion of what it means to be a sanctuary campus or community. The idea of creating a resource to document Oberlin's history of providing a safe haven or help for humankind arose in 2016 when conversation about immigration dominated national headlines.  

The following stories illustrate Oberlin's commitment and ongoing efforts to help the less fortunate or those in need of comfort or a safe space to live, learn, and work. The values and beliefs documented in this exhibit have inspired recent sanctuary activity.

In March 2017, the Oberlin City Council passed legislation stating that the City would not seek to assist immigration authorities unless required by federal law. In April 2018, the congregation of the First Church in Oberlin unanimously approved a resolution to implement steps with the goal of becoming a "Sanctuary Church."

The Oberlin Heritage Center (OHC) is a community partner for the Oberlin Sanctuary Project. The organization, which originated in 1903 as a community improvement group known as the Village Improvement Society, now operates a museum complex of historic sites and maintains a research archive. OHC is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums and has earned Standards of Excellence Certification from the Ohio Association of Nonprofit Organizations. OHC provides tours, outreach programs, and history walks, including the Freedom's Friends: Underground Railroad and Abolitionist History Walk. 

The Council of Independent Colleges' (CIC) "Humanities Research for the Public Good" program provided a grant to Oberlin College for a traveling exhibition, for the expansion of the online digital exhibition, and for public programming related to the Oberlin Sanctuary Project. Oberlin College is among 25 CIC member institutions selected to participate in the inaugural cohort of "Humanities Research for the Public Good," an initiative to promote student research at private colleges and universities, address issues of public significance, and showcase the rich archival, library, and museum collections held by participating institutions. 

"Humanities Research for the Public Good" is generously supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The traveling exhibit takes the form of vertical retractable panels mounted in metal bases. Each of the seven stories in the virtual exhibit is represented in two portable units featuring text and images. As of July 2020, the exhibit has been hosted by the Oberlin Public Library and the Cleveland Public Library-Langston Hughes Branch.

Images were provided by the Oberlin College Archives unless otherwise noted.

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