Sunday, February 27, 2000

Students retrace slaves' steps to freedom

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        RIPLEY — Six University of Cincinnati history students traced the footsteps of runaway slaves Saturday from the banks of the Ohio River through a signal house to a hiding place on what is now called Freedom Hill.

        The students, studying how the Underground Railroad operated in Ohio, were led by assistant history professor Geoff Plank on a tour of historic sites in Ripley.

        He said they chose Ripley for their field trip because of its significance in the Underground Railroad operation.

        They visited the Rankin House, which sits atop Freedom Hill. The Rev. John Rankin, an abolitionist, lived there from 1828-1863 and hid slaves there.

        Tour guide Annetta Dunham explained that as slaves crossed the Ohio River, they were taken in by abolitionists along Front Street. A signal would be sent to the Rankin House by a lantern. If the course was clear the slaves would climb 165 stone steps to the Rankin House.

        “Some were hidden underneath a door on the porch and some were hidden in secret compartments upstairs,” Ms. Dunham said. “They were only kept here for a short while, then moved along the Underground Railroad operation in other cities and on to Canada.”

        As Rick Schroeder, Tina Cox, Kelly Beckett, Heather Hamilton, Brian Morgan and Vicki Arnold moved through the 171-year-old, six-room house, they saw the crinkled pages of a Bible and a pair of eyeglasses the Rev. Mr. Rankin used. Sk,0

        The tour continued through the Parker House, former home of freed slave John Parker, a conductor in the underground operation.

        “Records show where he used to go into Kentucky and bring slaves back,” said tour guide Betsy Billingsley.

        Mr. Plank said each of the 23 students in his 10-week coursehas selected a specific topic to research.

        “When the course is finished the research papers will be compiled and presented to the (National Underground Railroad) Freedom Center,” Mr. Plank said.

        Mrs. Cox said her topic dealt with the black perspective of the Underground Railroad.

        “I am interviewing some of the black historians to find out who were the heroes during the operation,” she said.


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