More than 150 years ago this week, the Underground Railroad began, giving slaves in the South a chance at freedom. The Grio reflects with iCue on railroad “conductor” Harriet Tubman’s legacy with a look at how it is being remembered today.
Millions of slaves were brought to America by ship during the 19th century. One hundred thousand of them escaped through a secret network of hideaways known as the “Underground Railroad.” Just a decade ago, the almost 380 identified sites that made up that dangerous road to freedom were in jeopardy of being lost forever.
“It memorializes one of the most significant events in American history,” said former Rep. Louis Stokes (D- Ohio).
Stokes, the great-grandson of a slave, and former Rep. Rob Portman (R- Ohio), a descendent of abolitionists, fought for passage of the 1998 bill that preserves the routes as national landmarks.
“It is a story of cooperation,” Portman said. “It’s a story of cooperation between races, across religious lines, geographic lines, and we can learn a lot from it today.”
The bipartisan measure put half a million dollars into a National Park Service project aimed at preserving and identifying prominent locations on the Underground Railroad.
The main routes snaked through 29 states: south through Florida onto the Caribbean, west into Mexico through Texas, north through various routes all the way to Canada. Fugitives hid along rivers, in cemeteries, and were taken in by white abolitionists, Native Americans and freed blacks.
The 1998 bill created the National Underground Railroad: Network to Freedom program. The National Park Service oversees the program, which preserves elements of the Underground Railroad to this day.