Thursday, February 09, 2006

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

Yesterday we visited the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. A tour was about to start as we entered so we rushed meet the guides. A friendly knowledgeable man educated us on a tour with just my children and I.

First, I learned about the international problem of slavery. The U.S. held only 3 million of the 15 million slaves world wide. Even Africans held slaves themselves and perpetuated the trade. He showed maps and slave ship pictures. I found a record from Tennessee courthouse for the purchase of slaves to be particularly interesting. Two men and one girl sold for $1,500 around 1830. Our guide equated this sum to about $15,000 today. If one transported slaves from the northern U. S. to the south their value became significantly more due to the great need and fortune being made in cotton production.

I was surprised to learn that native Americans were sometimes enslaved too, but not as desirable. These folks could find home if they escaped captivity, and if too many native Americans were collected, there was danger of war. I also didn't know that African slaves would sometimes escape and become part of tribes which took them in.

The Freedom Center houses a slave holding cabin from Kentucky inside the building. The owner would collect slaves and chain them upstairs until he amassed about 30 or 40 people. Then he'd walk them 600 miles to the south to be sold for big bucks.

One section large section exhibits the Underground Railroad. One can watch a short movie about a boy deciding to run for freedom or stay with his family as a slave. A hall outside the theater room, houses computers around the displays where one might run with the boy from the movie and make decisions along the way, "It's been days since I've eaten. Do I go without food or try to steal some food from a barn?", "Do I stop at the house with the candle in the window, or is it a trap?", "Do I walk by a creek in the open so dogs will lose my scent , or stay in the woods where I might hide?" There are posters of people and stories who conducted or escaped on the underground railroad. A house was on exhibit which asked, "Where would you hide here if a slave catcher me after you." Yesterday, was the first time I understood that even if the people escaped to the north, they had to continue to Canada for true freedom. And because of the great value of slaves, bounty hunters chased them all the way to the U.S. Canadian border. So, the underground railroad spanned not just the south, but all the way north.
Oprah Winfrey hosted a longer movie about the crossing of slaves from Ky. to Ripley, Ohio over the Ohio River. Thousand of former slaves made it over with the help of two men, a former slave who bought his freedom, and Presbyterian minister who dedicated his life to the abolitionist cause. The minister's house is preserved to this day. Wish I remembered these men's names.

Another section of the museum is devoted to slavery and oppression today. The music and projected moving images were too powerful and overwhelming for my five year old Pooh Bear to spend any time in there.

The Freedom Center stands on the Ohio River just across from Kentucky. There is an encased flame on a veranda facing the river, reminding us of safe haven, as a beacon of light announcing freedom for all, in memory of all those who suffered and died for the cause.

One point was brought home to us in a simple fact. Construction of the bridge which links Ohio and Kentucky, and stands just across from the museum in full view from it's huge glass windows, was started before slavery ended in the U.S. Our guide reminded us, "Everyone thinks slavery was so long ago, but the bridge we still use today contains stone and labor from that time."

To sum up the experience, I'll use a quote if I can remember it-

"Freedom should be like the air we breathe, always there but totally invisible."

1 comment:

SmileDragon said...

Wow, what a great quote. And what a powerfully emotional tour it must have been. I learned a few new things from your post today. Thank you for sharing.