Wednesday, July 26, 2000

House OKs Freedom Center funds

Project would get $16M over 4 years

By Derrick DePledge
Enquirer Washington Bureau

        WASHINGTON — The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center would receive $16 million over four years under a bill passed Tuesday by the House of Representatives.

        An infusion of federal money would push the Freedom Center closer to its $90 million fund-raising target. Organizers have already raised $48 million in private and public donations for the project along the Ohio River.

        The Freedom Center is intended as a tribute to the Underground Railroad, a clandestine network of African-Americans, abolitionists and their allies that enabled slaves from the South to escape to freedom in the North prior to the Civil War. An informal web of abolitionists illegally supplied food, clothing, safe houses and travel routes to fleeing slaves at a time when the country was divided over the moral and economic consequences of slavery.

        Cincinnati, because of its loca tion on the Ohio River and its proximity to slave-holding states, was often the line that separated South from North. Scholars estimate that 100,000 slaves made the secret journey north, with as many as 60,000 passing through Ohio.

        The House bill, approved by a 404-11 vote, authorizes $16 million over four years for construction of the center, which will include a museum with interactive exhibits as well as an archive of materials from the era. The Freedom Center will also create regional “freedom stations” across the country to mark other points on the Underground Railroad. The bill provides $2.5 million a year to the U.S. Department of the Interior to preserve other stops on the trail, which runs through more than two dozen states and parts of Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.

        Rep. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who sponsored the bill, said the Freedom Center is a “noble and important mission.”

        Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, has a similar bill in the Senate.

        The Freedom Center is scheduled to open by late 2003 between Vine and Walnut streets.


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