Imagine being one of 13 children in a family that owns over 100 slaves and believing slavery is wrong. That is the life of the Grimkè sisters, Angelina Grimkè Weld and Sarah Moore Grimkè. But the sisters did not stand by silent, even as children, and swallow their belief in the evil of slavery.
Eleven-year-old Sarah taught one of the family slaves to read, and was punished by her family for it. She joined the Quakers, a noted abolitionist religion, because of her views, but even they required her to stand up – she was criticized by them for sitting next to a black woman, Sarah Mapps Douglass, at services. Sarah spoke about and wrote abolition, and had her “Epistle to the Clergy of the Southern States” burned in South Carolina. In 1837, she wrote that men and women should be treated equally in her “Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Women,” linking abolition and equality of the sexes.
Sarah’s younger sister Angelina Grimkè Ward was just as passionate about abolition. She was a powerful speaker, and caused uproars by speaking out against slavery in audiences that included men. She also joined the Quakers, and moved to Philadelphia in 1819, and later to New York, where she and her sister were the first women to lecture for the Anti-Slavery Society. She published the abolitionist pamphlet “An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South” in 1835. After she married fellow abolitionist Theodore Weld in 1838, they moved to New Jersey and opened several progressive schools. Both she and Sarah continued to work for civil rights and women’s suffrage after the Civil War.
We should all learn from the example of these passionate women that though it takes courage to stand up for what we believe to be right, we must strive to stay on the harder path of helping those who are not always able to help themselves, despite any personal cost of doing so.
-Gina Armstrong, IMLS Coca-Cola Museum Studies Apprentice
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, in collaboration with the Know Theatre of Cincinnati, will kick-off Women’s History Month with a production of We Will Rise: Selections from The Afghan Women’s Writing Project. This coming Saturday is International Women’s Day and the birth date of Harriet Tubman, therefore it’s very appropriate to have this production held for a limited run, March 7 and 8, in the Harriet Tubman Theater at the Freedom Center.
The Afghan Women’s Writing Project is aimed at allowing Afghan women to have a direct voice in the world and provides tools, training and an outlet to share their stories. Many of the Afghan women have to make extreme efforts to gain access to a computer to submit their writings. Most of the submissions are done in secret—few details are known about how the writers submit their stories. Tickets for this production can be purchased at knowtheatre.com.
On March 13, 2014 at 6:00pm the Freedom Center is holding a free public program, If Not For Women. This program will feature the remarkable story of Lucy Higgs Nichols Nichols, a runaway slave who joined the 23rd Indiana as a regiment nurse, will be portrayed by Judith C. Owens-Laude. Judith is an author, dramatist, educator, folklorist, and storyteller from Louisville, Kentucky. This outstanding dramatic performance will be followed by a discussion about the contributions of women from the Civil War to Civil Rights. This discussion will be led by Dr. Christine Anderson, Associate Professor at Xavier University, and Dr. Holly McGee, Associate Professor at the University of Cincinnati.
Join me in honoring and celebrating women at the Freedom Center and learn more about their brilliance and courage!
Christopher Miller, Manager of Program Initiatives
My favorite quilt in NURFC’s And Still We Rise exhibit is Syvia Hernandez's quilt, Birmingham Bombing. Hernandez's quilt commemorates the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, September 15, 1963, and the four girls whose lives became the sacrifice that brought Birmingham to finally face the consequences of its evil actions.
Things in Birmingham had been bad for a very, very long time, but the status quo was also very, very good at hiding that fact from the world. Birmingham was a closed city, hostile to “outsiders” and “agitators,” almost as much as it was hostile to its own poor and African-American citizens. But the horrific death of four girls, on a beautiful church Sunday -- very literally sacred time, especially in this Bible Belt town -- shattered that insulation and the beginning of the end of institutional segregation in Birmingham, and, within a year, the United States, brought about the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Without the deaths of Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley, Birmingham likely could have continued to violently oppress its citizens for many years; it was the women, in this case teenage girls, who brought the fight into the light.
In the historic fight for abolition of slavery, women were at the forefront, likening their own struggle for rights to that struggle for freedom of the enslaved African-American population. They were in a unique position to point out to those in power, often in their own homes, the moral repugnancy of “owning” another human being, of using someone else’s powerlessness to make yourself more powerful. In the same way, the women of the South led the way in the Civil Rights Movement, from Rosa Parks’ refusal to be pushed to the back any longer, finally to that horrible September day when the bombing in Birmingham finally went too far. The women knew that as long as one is enslaved or denied equality, no one can be truly free. We must keep fighting that fight today, reminding everyone that “until justice rolls down like waters,” until we are all free and equal in that freedom, we cannot truly call ourselves the “Land of the Free.”
-Gina Armstrong, IMLS Coca-Cola Museum Studies Apprentice
Join us Oscar Weekend Saturday, March 1 at the Freedom Center, for guided tours of the Solomon Northup Tour! Tours will begin at 11 am and continue throughout the day at the top of every hour until 4pm. The Solomon Northup Tour is inspired by the nine time Oscar nominated major-motion picture, 12 Years a Slave. Visitors will have the opportunity to learn more about Solomon Northup's journey from the curators of the tour and see the rare, first edition copy of Twelve Years a Slave now on display to the public.
Tours are free with general admission. For more information, please call 513.333.7737 and follow us on Twitter @FreedomCenter. #solomonnorthuptour.
-Assia Johnson, PR and Social Media Coordinator
Have you seen the red Xs taking over Facebook today? Or perhaps you joined in and marked your hand with the X yourself. The End It Movement asked the anti trafficking community and its followers to shine a light on slavery by drawing a red X on hands on February 27th. That red X means that you’re telling the world that slavery still exists and you won’t stand for it. By using your influence and your hand, thousands are carrying the message of freedom.
The End It Movement asks individuals to use their voices to tell the world that slavery still exists in three main ways: Be the Billboard, Spread the Word, and Get the Toolkit. By supporting END IT gear you can advertise that slavery still existeverywhere you go.
Then by drawing that red X on your hand, you can tell your Facebook, Instagram and Twitter followers that slavery still exists using #ENDITMOVEMENT. People will start talking and asking questions when they see a sea of red Xs across their streams! Finally, head here to download the End It Movement toolkit. You’ll get a ton of digital resources to do a bunch of things with, like:
Sometimes it’s overwhelming to think about slavery because we don’t know what we can actually do to end it. Not everyone can leave careers and join organizations fighting on the ground – but we don’t all have to. Even if you only have a small amount of time, you can make a valuable contribution. Here is a list of easy ways you can get involved today:
Ending slavery is a challenge that’s been around for many, many years – but it’s one that this generation can implode if it takes it seriously. A red X won’t end slavery, but it raises the awareness of those within your circle of influence. Use that influence wisely, and then take real steps in your own life to address slavery.
We can end slavery in our lifetime. Be in it to end it.
On Tuesday, February 25th, the Freedom Center will host the leaders of the Ohio Department of Public Safety (ODPS), its Office of Criminal Justice Services (OCJS), the Southwestern Ohio branch of the Salvation Army, and the Greater Cincinnati Rescue & Restore Coalition End Slavery Cincinnati. These abolitionists are coming together at the Freedom Center to announce a grant from OCJS to the Salvation Army that will allow for more comprehensive care of trafficking victims in Southwestern Ohio.
The meeting doubles as a working session on the new statewide Human Trafficking Awareness campaign, recently launched by ODPS and the Governor of Ohio’s Human Trafficking Task Force. The members of the End Slavery Cincinnati coalition will be leading the regional effort to share these materials in order to keep the momentum building around awareness in our region.
Adding a healthy dose of sober reflection and inspiration was a group tour of Invisible: Slavery Today that followed the working session.
“Hosting modern day abolitionists like the End Slavery Cincinnati coalition is core to our mission,“ said Luke Blocher of the Freedom Center. “Like the Vigilance Committees of the 19th Century, these groups are on the front lines of serving victims and fighting slavery in our community. We hope, like all of our visitors, they will leave empowered in the knowledge that slavery has been defeated before, and can be again today.”
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is the home to a truly unique collection of artifacts. These pieces of the past share stories of courage, cooperation and perseverance, the cornerstones of freedom movements throughout history.
Earlier this year, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center accepted a very important artifact into the Permanent Collection. An early printing of the First Edition of the book 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup was graciously donated by longtime Freedom Center supporters Francie and John Pepper.
In this narrative, Solomon Northup, born a free man of color, shares his story of being kidnapped into a life of slavery. Solomon was owned by three different men during his twelve years of enslavement, but he never lost the hope of finding freedom. When the opportunity presented itself, Solomon courageously revealed his story to a white gentleman who outwardly opposed the institution of slavery. He agreed to help by sending a letter about Solomon’s enslavement to friends in the North. In 1853, Solomon regained his freedom and returned to his family in New York, a free man. Solomon Northup published his original narrative in 1853, immediately after escaping from slavery.
Curatorial staff at the Freedom Center were thrilled to receive this rare copy of 12 Years a Slave. The book is in excellent condition and can potentially be shared with visitors for years to come. As staff work diligently to reveal stories about the triumph of the human spirit, this book serves as a vehicle for education staff to interpret the lives of individuals who experienced the horrors of chattel slavery in America. Slave narratives like 12 Years a Slave teach us today that a single person has the power to advocate for abolition.
The book 12 Years a Slave is on display in the Hall of Everyday Freedom Heroes gallery. Be sure see this historic book while taking the Solomon Northup Tour at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
Cori Sisler, Manager of Collections and Exhibitions
*Found in Collection is a term used to denote materials not originally part of a large donation or that are undocumented. I’ll be using it to talk about interesting stories not necessarily able to be on display in the NURFC galleries.
In honor of Valentine’s Day, which just passed, I’d like to tell you about some pieces on display and in the archives of the NURFC collection that represent an epic love story the years could easily have buried. NURFC was fortunate to receive a large donation from the Victoria Retirement Center in 2013, containing about 800 items belonging to Charles and Garnetta Lewis of Cincinnati. In inventorying and cataloging these items, we realized that the bulk of the materials were letters written almost daily between Charles, a member of the Army Air Force during World War II, and his wife, while Charles was serving in training in the United States and with the India-China Transport Wing of the AAF during the last year of the war.
The thing that thrills me most about this collection is its ordinariness. Charles Lewis is not a celebrated war hero or even a particular trailblazer. He’s a normal man in a happy marriage, separated from the one he loves. He battles that separation anxiety and loss the only way he knows, by writing to Garnetta –- prodigiously. For every letter in the display cases on the third floor, there are four more in our archives! These are primarily Charles’ letters to Garnetta, who kept each of the letters through the many years between the war and the donation to NURFC. Though some of the letters are Garnetta’s to Charles, I imagine it was much harder for him to keep the bulk of her letters through the many moves required of him during the war, rather than Garnetta not writing to Charles as often as he wrote her.
The lesson I take from Charles and Garnetta’s story is one of perseverance and steadfast love, through the many obstacles life throws at us. Charles served during Jim Crow, and trained in segregated Georgia and Mississippi; yet, his letters are upbeat and focused on his love for Garnetta and his day-to-day life as a soldier -– his despair and frustration are with delays in receiving her letters or with not receiving them! We can all learn a lesson here -- love each other, no matter the obstacles, being solid in that love despite the battering the world gives us.
Gina K. Armstrong, IMLS Coca-Cola Museum Studies Apprentice
Each day in February, the Freedom Center will use its social media channels to highlight a different quilt from the exhibit, which features 85 story quilts narrating 400 years of African American history.
Your family can join in the celebration at the Freedom Center and online via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @freedomcenter #28days28quilts
And Still We Rise, on view now through March 29, narrates 400 years of history in 85 story quilts. The exhibition curated by the founder of the Women of Color Quilter’s Network, Carolyn Mazloomi, Ph.D., chronicles the history of the African American experience, capturing the stories of freedom’s heroes, ranging from Frederick Douglass to the first African American President. The exhibit is sponsored by P&G and ArtsWave.
-Assia Johnson, Public Relations and Social Media Coordinator
The Anti-Slavery Record was an abolitionist series published for the American Anti-Slavery Society by R. G. Williams. The monthly was published in New York and had a three year run from 1835 to 1837. Issues of the Anti-Slavery Record were bought and read in huge numbers while in print. With the intention of sharing anti-slavery sentiments with a broad audience, most issues included an illustration on the first page that depicted the evils of chattel slavery.
Pictured here is the unsigned illustration on the first page of the December 1835 issue of The Anti-Slavery Record. This pamphlet is from the Collection of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
-Cori Sisler, Manager of Collections and Exhibitions
This website was funded by the U.S. Department of Education Underground Railroad Educational and Cultural (URR) Program