Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Wanted: Any Underground Railroad items

Center curators search for slave-era artifacts

By Janelle Gelfand jgelfand@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Freedom Center curators are scouring the nation for artifacts that will tell the story of the Underground Railroad, the secret network that helped pre-Civil War slaves escape to the North.

        Over the next two years, Rita C. Organ, the center's director of exhibits and collections, and Fath Davis Ruffins, a Smithsonian Institution historian, will search at least a dozen states for hundreds of items for the Freedom Center.

        They'll search museums, historic homes, private collections and state archives for everything from African artifacts and bills of slave sales to baskets, musical instruments and pottery.

        The center already has secured its most dramatic artifact, a 170-year-old slave pen, to be moved from Mason County, Ky. The two- story log structure, where men and women waiting to be taken south into slavery were shackled to the floor, will stand at the Freedom Center's hub, surrounded by 30,000 square feet of exhibition space on two floors.

        A series of exhibits covering a broad time span will tell the story of the Under ground Railroad. Personal experiences will be intertwined with issues of freedom and the individuals who played a role in the path out of slavery.

        Visitors will first encounter a filmed introduction. The exhibit will be divided into three historical sections:

        • The Encounter — This will encompass civilizations that existed during the early years of the slave trade — as early as 1400.

        • From Slavery to Freedom — Roughly 1776-1865, this exhibit will provide context to understand how slavery could co-exist in the land of the Declaration of Independence, and how it gave rise to the Underground Railroad. Included here will be slave diaries and documents from the business of the slave trade, such as images of slave auctions, bills of sale and runaway slave ads.

        • The Struggle Continues — This section will explore how the Underground Railroad influenced freedom movements in contemporary society.

        A separate exhibit will be geared to school-aged children in grades three through eight, to give them a hands-on approach to the Underground Railroad in the mid-19th century.


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