The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center welcomes thousands of visitors annually, all with unique stories, backgrounds and world views. Though our exhibits, docent-led school tours and unique programming, visitors learn about institutionalized slavery in America and about the network of abolitionists who fought to see its end in the 1800s. Of those visitors, there are many that seek the stories of the Underground Railroad on their personal journey to join the network of modern abolitionists, fighting against modern forms of slavery and human trafficking. Their stories are amazing and inspiring and we feel compelled to share their stories with all of you!
Flame Friday is unique way for visitors to engage with the Freedom Center and other modern abolitionsits via social media. Visitors can share their personal journey in enabling freedom when they take pictures with the Eternal Flame, located on the third floor just outside of the From Slavery to Freedom Exhibit. Once you take your picture, tag it #FlameFriday along with your story online, and via Instagram or Twitter. The Freedom Center will share #FlameFriday stories on Fridays. We encourage everyone to share their story and how they use Freedom's Flame to light the way for others!
-Assia Johnson, Public Relations and Social Media Coordinator
Image: (Top) Visiting students from Hughes High School in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Bottom, from left to right): Brooke Hathaway, Project Manager of Strategic Initiatives, Freedom Hero Josephine Kulea, founder and director of the Samburu Girls Foundation and Luke Blocher, Director of National Strategic Initiatives.
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center uses an expanding archival collection to gain valuable historic perspectives on the institution of slavery. After all, it is undoubtedly difficult for the 21st century person to completely understand many different aspects of 19th century life in America. Historic newspapers, pamphlets and memoirs are just several examples of primary resources that paint a vivid picture of the horrors of slavery, the Underground Railroad Movement and the lives of abolitionists across the country.
One of the few, detailed accounts of the commercial slave trade by a participant was captured in the memoirs of Captain Theodore Canot, a slave trader for nearly three decades. Originally written in 1854, Adventures of an African Slaver: Being the True Account of the Life of Captain Theodore Canot, Trader of Gold, Ivory and Slaves on the Coast of Guinea is filled with information on nearly every aspect of the slave trade in the 1800s. The text details Canot’s extensive travels into the interior of Africa to buy slaves, the treatment of enslaved Africans on slave ships, the suppression of a slave revolt at sea, as well as financial tables that expose the expenses and profits of his involvement in the slave trade.
A 1928 edition of Captain Theodore Canot’s memoirs edited by Malcolm Cowley is on display in the From Slavery to Freedom exhibition at the Freedom Center. In an exhibition space that is meant to commemorate those that survived and died during the Transatlantic Slave Trade, this book serves as a reminder that the historic institution of slavery functioned as a business that offered no sustenance to those it enslaved.
-Cori Sisler, Manager of Collections and Exhibitions
As I mentioned last month, Fox Searchlight released its new film, “12 Years a Slave” last Friday night in theaters across America. Staff and friends of the Freedom Center were treated to a sneak preview in Cincinnati a week ago, and after finally seeing the film I can attest to its incredible value. Within our museum walls we discuss slavery every day – but it’s an entirely different thing to see the brutality and violence of this institution on screen. I cried and winced and looked away. It’s uncomfortable, unnerving, and horrible. Yet this film is so necessary – to every American certainly, but I daresay to all of humanity.
Solomon’s Story Isn’t Over
The film has a particular connection to our world today because slavery didn’t end with the Emancipation Proclamation or men like Solomon being freed. There are up 30 million people enslaved in the world today according to the recently released Global Slavery Index by our friends at Walk Free Foundation.
Men, women and children are no longer owned as property as they were in the American South. We call that form of enslavement “chattel slavery” or the legal ownership of a human being by another. The U.S. ended this form of enslavement in 1865, but the final country, Mauritania, to eliminate chattel slavery didn’t do so until 1981.
But there are still many forms of enslavement that persist throughout the world. Forced labor, domestic servitude, child labor, sexual enslavement and bonded labor can be found in hundreds of countries today. Then factor in child brides – girls given in marriage at ages as young as eight years old – and child soldiers, both of which we consider forms of enslavement because children are forced against their will to participate and cannot walk away.
The Global Slavery Index provides a ranking of 162 countries, reflecting a combined measure of three factors: estimated prevalence of modern slavery by population, a measure of child marriage, and a measure of human trafficking in and out of a country.
What About the United States?
The Global Slavery Index ranked Mauritania, Haiti, Pakistan and India as the countries with highest prevalence of modern slavery. Conversely, it ranked the countries with the lowest prevalence of modern slavery, and the United States didn’t even make the top ten. Modern slavery isn’t just a problem in other countries – it’s a problem here.
In 2011, more than 10,000 people called the U.S. based hotline from every single state to request emergency assistance, report a tip, find services for survivors, request more information and more. That’s a 64% increase from 2010 – a reflection of the growing awareness of trafficking.
And people enslave others in both labor trafficking and sex trafficking situations here in the U.S. Labor traffickers commonly force people to work in agriculture and farms, as domestic servants, in restaurants and food service, in peddling and begging rings, as hostesses and dancers in strip clubs, in factories, and in the hospitality industry. In the U.S., these forms of labor trafficking are much more common than people realize.
Sex trafficking in the U.S. occurs in fake massage businesses, residential brothels, strip clubs, escort services and truck stops. It’s often facilitated through the internet and street prostitution. Sex trafficking occurs when people – men and women – are forced or coerced into the commercial sex trade against their will. It includes any child involved in commercial sex.
Abolition Didn’t End With Emancipation
Slavery didn’t end with the Civil War, but neither did abolition. Check out some of our partner organizations who are leading projects across the world to stop enslavers and restoring survivors to lives of freedom.
Free the Slaves operates on the frontlines in six different countries, liberating slaves, helping survivors, and working for systemic solutions.
International Justice Mission has ongoing operations in 16 cities in Cambodia, the Philippines, Thailand, India, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia, Bolivia and Guatemala, and has Casework Alliance Partnerships in Ecuador and Peru.
Polaris Project works in the United States and is committed to combating human trafficking through the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, client services and policy advocacy.
Made in a Free World focuses on supply chains, showing consumers that today’s supply chains enslave more people than at any time in human history. “That smart phone. That t-shirt, computer, cup of coffee… That’s stuff we buy, and that’s stuff that comes from slaves.”
Have You Seen the Film, Yet?
Director Steve McQueen honored Solomon’s story by sticking largely to his original narrative. And the actors gave incredible performances that certainly merit an Academy Award.
I cannot encourage you enough to go and see it – and take friends and family. Start talking about the past, and share with others that this brutal treatment, this enslavement of human beings continues to occur today.
Read Solomon Northup’s Autobiography, Twelve Years a Slave
If you’re interested in reading Solomon’s memoir by the same name, I recommend Twelve Years a Slave – Enhanced Edition by Dr. Sue Eakin (available for Kindle, in audiobook, and in paperback). If you prefer listening to audiobooks, then you can download the book read by actor Louis Gossett, Jr. and use the promo code FREEDOM. When you purchase the audiobook at Downpour.com and use the code at checkout, we will receive a donation of 20% of your net sales price. Downpour.com is partially owned by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Use of the code will not impact the purchase price. -Brooke Hathaway, Project Manager of Strategic Initiatives
Educators are some of the most innovative people who effectively invent creative ways to help children become lifelong learners. In today’s global and ever changing technological society, educators are always faced with the challenge of helping children bridge the gap between the era of the Underground Railroad and contemporary times. At the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, we offer creative Educator Institutes and Workshops that can assist educators with teaching and learning outside of the classroom.
Our education team is preparing institutes and workshops for 2014 that range in topics from Female Heroes of the Civil War to Freedom Summer to the Rwandan Genocide. On February 5, 2014 the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center will host a National Youth Summit where participating students will be encouraged to think of themselves as makers of history and asked to consider their ability to be active and engaged citizens. Civil rights activists and Freedom School internship participants will participate in a panel discussion about the 1964 youth-led effort to end the political disenfranchisement of African Americans in the Deep South, and discuss the role of young people in shaping America's past and future. A live video link between the National Youth Summit panel and regional Town Hall sites will enable young people from across the country to participate in the Summit via webcast, allowing them to submit questions for the panel through webchat email, Facebook, and Twitter.
Join us on February 27 for a collaborative workshop as we explore the history of the Rwandan genocide and American's response, or lack thereof, before hearing the eyewitness testimony of Carl Wilkens. This worshop is featured as part of a collaborative session with the Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education. Teachers will delve into this history with fellow educators across the greater Cincinnati area and receive hands-on resources to bring back into their classrooms.
On March 14, educators will have the opportunity to receive a toolbox of ideas and a packet of materials about Lucy Higgs Nichols facilitated by the Carnegie Center for Art & History (New Albany, Indiana). The purpose of the workshop is for educators to learn the stories of courageous women from the era of the Civil War to the Civil Rights movements while focusing on the story of Lucy Higgs Nichols, an African American Civil War nurse in an all white regiment. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is not only a museum, but an institution of teaching and learning outside of the classroom for educators and students. For more information about any of the programs listed, please visit events and programming. - Kieli Ferguson, Educational Initiatives Manager
Along with freedom lovers around the world, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center mourns the loss of Nelson Mandela, one of history’s greatest leaders. We also pause to celebrate and reflect on his life’s work, and the inspiration he will continue to provide for countless generations.
Our president, Clarence “C.G.” Newsome, offered these words of reflection yesterday:
“As the leader of South Africa’s fight for freedom for all, Nelson Mandela is a true International Freedom Conductor. His reverence for justice, heroism and his transformative leadership made an immeasurable impact on the world. He showed relentless perseverance that he would realize freedom for himself and his people. Through his cooperation with all sides, even his oppressors, he brought unity and stability to South Africa. And, through his courage to bring about change, he led a peaceful transition to democracy. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center honors the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela, which will continue to inspire us all. I call upon the citizens of the world to dedicate and recommit themselves to the ideals he personified and to which he held true throughout his life, which will be no less meaningful and powerful, even with his death.”
Please join us in celebrating the legacy of Nelson Mandela by stopping in the Freedom Center to leave your “6 Words 4 Mandela.” No admission required. You may also leave your thoughts on Twitter @6Words4Mandela, #6Words4Mandela.
Some of your words will be shared via our Twitter and Facebook accounts, and also used in a future exhibit about Mandela’s life.
-The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center serves as the caretaker for many artifacts that help tell the story of historical slavery and abolitionist efforts in America. A truly remarkable set of artifacts that the Freedom Center has the pleasure of caring for is a collection of hand-written church records from Union Baptist Church of Cincinnati, Ohio. The records date back to 1831, thirty-four years before the end of the Civil War.
Union Baptist Church was established on July 21, 1831, after fourteen members of the community came together to celebrate their religion in freedom. It was the first African American church in Cincinnati, Ohio. Union Baptist Church is historically recognized for outwardly opposing the institution of slavery and for their missionary work. Church members were devoted abolitionists, and as membership grew, the church hosted numerous abolitionist speakers including Henry Ward Beecher, Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison. During a time when many escaped slavery by crossing the Ohio River into Cincinnati, Union Baptist Church functioned as a sanctuary for those traveling on the Underground Railroad. Nearly 185 years after settling in Cincinnati, the church continues to serve as a beacon of community enlightenment and a model for social integrity.
Pages from the Union Baptist Church records are on display in the Freedom Center’s From Slavery to Freedom exhibition. The documents on display are rotated monthly in an effort to preserve the aged archival material. During the month of December, museum visitors can see the hand-written meeting minutes from February 27, 1852 and a membership book dating to the 1900s.
-Cori Sisler, Manager of Collections and Exhibitions
1963 was a momentous year in America. A collision of several forces focusing on race and power in America was underway.
A bomb exploded on September 15 at the Sixteenth Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama killing 4 girls who were primping in the church basement in anticipation of the roles they had developed for the main church service of that morning. The response worldwide to the killing of the angels of Sixteenth Street Baptist church was one of outrage. President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert Kennedy who served as the United States Attorney General were being drawn into the accelerating drama of race, class and violence in America. The Kennedys, Harvard men, sons of Joseph Kennedy, Sr. who had made his wealth in the rough and tumble world of bootlegging in the 1920’s, had been raised in a compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, found themselves walking a tightrope from crisis to crisis during that year.
November brought lower temperatures across America, and while the issues that had taken center stage in America had not been resolved, President Kennedy welcomed the opportunity to fly to Texas and spread his charismatic charm. November 22, 1963, Air Force One landed at Fort Worth, and when the plane rolled to a stop and the door opened, President Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline descended the steps of the plane to cheers, waving arms and smiling faces. The president was in his element. Texas Governor John Connally had a gnawing in the pit of his stomach weeks before the arrival of the Kennedys, and he had visited the White House in an effort to convince the President’s advisors to postpone his Texas trip if not outright cancel it. The momentum of planning and the possibility of Kennedy being able to get out of Washington and do something other than put out and/or dampen racial tensions and violence was such that there would be no stopping, and Gov. Connally, a Democrat, became an active part of the Kennedy entourage that flew to Texas.
John F. Kennedy, at 43, was the 35th President of the United States, and was the youngest president America had chosen since its beginning. Kennedy succeeded President Dwight Eisenhower and he became involved in Cold War issues. He was at his best when he delivered a speech in the divided city of East and West Berlin during which he called West Berlin “the showplace of the free world surrounded by Communism.” He described himself as a “Berliner” stating that “all free men wherever they may live are citizens of Berlin.” At home in the United States the summer of 1963 moved with such overwhelming intensity that it appeared that the President had difficulty seeing freedom in the divided cities of Birmingham, Jackson, Mississippi and Chicago in the same light, but for the moment in Fort Worth, the sea of smiling faces and the eager hands of Texans, young and old, gave him hugs and cheers. Those faces and smiles energized Kennedy to the point that the Secret Service spent the day chasing him as he would leave his car unannounced and plunge into the ocean of love. Kennedy was in stride. The next stop would be Love Field in Dallas where again President Kennedy was greeted by a multitude of adoring people. The Secret Service was able to contain the President in a more effective style this time since the President was aware that he had an audience of 2500 people who would be awaiting him at the Dallas, Texas Trade Mart for a luncheon speech. At Dallas the customized Lincoln that had been prepared for the President by the Hess & Eisenhardt Company of Cincinnati awaited and its Plexiglas bubble top had been removed since the weather was sunny and the President wanted to see and be seen by the people of Dallas. Kennedy had to come to Texas. Kennedy had to visit the South. For while he was uncomfortable at times with America’s most overriding domestic issue, race, he had developed an outline for civil rights legislation that he wanted passed by the United States Congress. With the drama and almost war-like response to the civil rights demonstrations in Southern cities and in some Northern cities, it was important that for the first attempt to pass civil rights legislation since passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1875 that President Kennedy visit a Southern city and openly talk about civil rights being an essential element of America’s worldwide image.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy travelled to the Berlin Wall touting the virtue of American democracy and chose to publicly confront the unspoken ugly of legally sanctioned racism in America. Kennedy and his administration became entangled with Alabama Gov. George Wallace over Wallace threatening to “stand in the schoolhouse door” to prevent the admission of 2 Black students to the University of Alabama. In June 1963, the President would send a message to Congress asking that Congress “help end rancor, violence, disunity and national shame” by passing a civil rights bill. He was on his way to court and respectfully confront the White leadership of Dallas, Texas, a Southern town, accompanied by Gov. John Connally and his wife Nellie, and also in the company of his Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson, the most powerful member of the United States Senate of that era. The Lincoln would leave Love Field headed for downtown Dallas following a route that with few exceptions was lined with waving and cheering people. In the Elm Street and Houston Street corridor near the Elm Street underpass individuals who awaiting the president recalled hearing a sharp sound that caused many of them to fall to the ground attempting to be safe. They would rise to find that the 35th President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, was gone.
In an AP article dated Saturday, November 23, 1963, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren was quoted as saying President Kennedy was assassinated “as a result of the hatred and bitterness that has been injected into the life of our nation by bigots.” The Dallas Morning News, established in 1842, in its Saturday, November 23rd, 1963 lead editorial began with the following—“The assassination is a cruel and shameful mark in this city’s history and a tragedy for the country which has been under his guidance.” In a summation of the legacy of Kennedy’s presidency of the United States in articles on pages 4 and 5 The Dallas Morning News focused on Kennedy’s policies and behavior that the newspaper felt would transfer power from the states to the federal government in 2 distinct areas—race and the power of American businesses’ compensation to their employees (minimum wages, prices of steel). The newspaper concluded its thoughts in the lead editorial, “Those who have been concerned with the expansion of governmental control and power nevertheless admired the sincerity and conviction of his philosophy, the gentlemanly restraint he showed in the face of criticism and the good taste he always exhibited in public appearance.” Lyndon Baines Johnson would be sworn in as President of the United States in the presidential plane at Dallas, Texas’ Love Field with Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy standing at his side. Johnson, a man who had served several terms as a United States Senator, emerged from Air Force One a few hours later as President of the United States. Johnson took off the gloves when necessary and at the same time would use his charm and Texas drawl, and yet people understood that he would not accept “no” as an answer on the passage of civil rights legislation. President Johnson also understood and openly expressed to anyone who would listen that passage of civil rights legislation would end the power of the Democratic Party in the American South, yet he didn’t turn back. He would become the anchor man that would receive the baton of the Kennedy legacy and civil rights legislation would be enacted by the United States Congress in 1964. -Carl Westmoreland, Historian
Source: The Dallas Morning News November 23, 1963
On October 22, I along with my Freedom Center family, previewed the new major motion picture, 12 Years a Slave based on Solomon Northup’s novel also entitled 12 Years a Slave. The film, directed by Steve McQueen and now playing nation-wide, is an absolute must- see. From beginning to end, 12 Years a Slave took me on such an emotional journey. I cried as I saw the hardships and turmoil Solomon faced as Chiwetel Ejiofor expertly brought Solomon Northup to life.
Once I left the theater, I returned to the book. A swirl of questions engulfed me as I followed along with Louis Gossett Jr.’s narration that I simply couldn’t ignore: How accurate was Solomon Northup’s narrative to institutionalized slavery in America and what became of Solomon Northup and his family? Lucky for me, the wonderful historians at the Freedom Center tackled the questions I had in our new Solomon Northup Tour.
The Solomon Northup Tour takes you on a seven stop journey starting from the second floor just outside the Slave Pen to From Slavery to Freedom to the very last stop just outside of Invisible: Slavery Today. Along the way I gained in-depth knowledge about the slave trade, the women’s suffrage movement that intersected with the Abolitionist movement, and the laws Solomon Northup was up against as he and his lawyers fought to seek justice in the courts. I was floored and my questions were answered. This tour is a fantastic supplementary tool that bridges the gaps and provides greater connections to our shared history.
Learn more about the Solomon Northup Tour and follow us on twitter, @FreedomCenter #SolomonNorthupTour
-Assia Johnson, PR and Social Media Coordinator
After watching the film, Twelve Years A Slave, my colleague, Rich Cooper, and I were reeling with emotions. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance as Solomon Northup gave us goosebumps – not to mention the performances by Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong’o. Everyone I talked to was processing the film days later, and we realized how important it was to work through the emotions this film rattled inside of us. Its impact on race-relations, human trafficking, the cradle-to-prison pipeline, and so many other contemporary issues is huge – and some place needed to harness the film’s power to achieve dialogue and action. We also thought that Solomon’s powerful story on film deserved to be honored in a national institution.
The Solomon Northup Tour
So, the Solomon Northup Tour was birthed. I’m a native of Saratoga Springs, New York – the very town Solomon lived in prior to his kidnapping – and Rich is a historian of the Underground Railroad (his newest book, Cincinnati’s Underground Railroad, releases in March 2014). Both of us were passionate about his story long before the film, and we were honored to transform his narrative into a guest experience that could create powerful meaning for today.
The tour begins the moment you step toward our elevators in our main lobby. You enter a scene from the film where Solomon and Ann ride in a carriage in Saratoga. The elevator doors open, physically separating Ann and Solomon – a depiction of the twelve years to come. Once you arrive on the second floor, you’re greeted by our beautiful Grand Hall, a two story atrium created by the unification of three wings of the museum: the Courage Pavilion, the Cooperation Pavilion, and the Perseverance Pavilion, the three characteristics that define the historic Underground Railroad and, certainly, Solomon’s journey. The flood of natural light through the magnificent two-story windows draws you to the river scene to the south, where you begin following Solomon’s story.
7 Stops – and a Changed Life
The Solomon Northup Tour weaves through two floors and more than three permanent exhibits. In each of the seven stops, you learn more about Solomon’s heart-breaking story. For instance, on the second stop, you step inside our largest artifact: the John W. Anderson Slave Pen, a real slave pen built in the 1800s and used as a holding pen by a slave trader from Kentucky. While standing in this slave pen, you read about Solomon’s kidnapping in Washington D.C., his confinement inside a pen just like this one, and his first whipping – again, inside a slave pen like this one. You imagine Solomon – and millions of others – standing where you are standing. And, you feel the cold, bitter hatred that crawls out to underpin a system such as slavery.
There are six more stops, each of which offer a glimpse into Solomon’s life and allow you to experience his story. Through artifacts, murals, paintings and portraits, and a reproduction of a cotton bale you’re transported back in time, whispering hope to Solomon and feeling compassion for the nameless millions whose stories didn’t make the silver screen.
Solomon and Today
The final stop on your journey is our permanent exhibit, Invisible: Slavery Today, where you encounter the stories of five others: Alexandre, Kumar, Tatyana, Mariano and Helia. These five individuals share their stories with you, too – except that they’re nearly a century and a half later. Through their courage, cooperation and perseverance you learn that slavery still exists despite our common understanding that it ended in 1865.
Our Final Thoughts
Rich and I hope that you’ll take a few hours to come down to the Freedom Center to take this important tour. We don’t recommend planning your date night around it because, quite honestly, you’ll most likely be ready to digest and process in silence. But that’s what this tour is for – for our friends, family and guests to process their emotions and thoughts after viewing a film like Twelve Years A Slave.
What does this film mean for contemporary America? Can we develop a meaningful approach to the legacies of slavery? Our colleagues at the Freedom Center believe so, and this is our first step toward doing so. We truly hope you’ll think so, too.
The tour is presented courtesy of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. If you enjoy the tour, consider joining our movement by becoming a member of the museum or supporting our mission.
The tour is curated by Rich Cooper and Brooke Hathaway. Tour materials were designed by Jesse Kramer. Copyright 2013.
Valuing personal freedom for everyone, abolitionists truly believed that “All men are created equal.” They fought fiercely to end the institution of slavery, and through the cooperation of many, American slavery was abolished in 1865. One of the most important tools of the Abolitionist Movement was the printed word. Beginning in the 1830s, anti-slavery advocates printed countless numbers of newspapers, pamphlets and books that challenged the slave system.
The mass production of anti-slavery literature provided a booming voice for abolitionists as they exposed the horrors of slavery in Cincinnati and across the country. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center celebrates the power of the Anti-Slavery Press by sharing with others an authentic printing press that was used in Cincinnati, Ohio during the 1850s.
In the Freedom Center’s From Slavery to Freedom exhibition, visitors can read about anti-slavery publications like William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator and Frederick Douglass’ The North Star. Additionally, visitors can learn about The Philanthropist, an anti-slavery newspaper published in Cincinnati by former slave owner James Birney.
—Cori Sisler, Manager of Exhibitions and Collections
This website was funded by the U.S. Department of Education Underground Railroad Educational and Cultural (URR) Program