Sunday, August 22, 2004

Museum to get world's attention

Freedom Center: Official dedication has full slate Monday

By Denise Smith Amos
Enquirer staff writer

After 10 years of planning and 27 months of construction, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center will be dedicated Monday.

Along with Oprah, Sean "P. Diddy" Combs and Angela Bassett, some 10,000 regular folks will join the celebration, which is drawing national and international attention.

chart The free public events Monday are expected to bring area families downtown for an all-day festival and an evening dedication that starts with a candlelit procession across the Roebling Suspension Bridge. [list of events]

It's all part of the christening of the $110-million Freedom Center, which highlights freedom struggles worldwide but focuses on tales of the Underground Railroad, that informal network that helped some 100,000 American slaves to freedom in the North.

The center has been open since early August, with more than 5,400 visits in its first two weeks. Most "are just grateful to finally have information about the Underground Railroad" said Delores Walters, the Freedom Center's community research specialist.

The dedication puts Cincinnati in the national TV spotlight, first via a live broadcast by the CBS Early Show, featuring Harry Smith. Other TV broadcasts and tapings include ABC, Good Morning America, MTV, Chat the Planet and C-Span, and WCPO-9's live news and Webcast.

The public is invited to a book signing at 9 a.m. of Passages to Freedom, the center-commissioned treatise on the Underground Railroad.

The festival begins at noon.

There will be face painting and re-enactors playing Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, and dancers, music, storytelling and demonstrations by various ethnic communities from around the world.

Glen Goodwin, the lighting designer, checks the fixtures' positions.
(Enquirer photo/MEGGAN BOOKER)
"The whole day is really designed to be a celebration for families about freedom," said Ernest Britton, Freedom Center spokesman.

Some fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders from the Otto Armleder Memorial Education Center of downtown will sing "I Have A Dream," "The Ballad of the Underground Railroad" and patriotic songs.

Evening events begin at 6:30. One highlight is a concert by the local 600-voice Freedom Choir.

Bassett, Combs and Spencer Crew, executive director of the Freedom Center, will speak. Reality TV star Nick Lachey and rock star Bono were scheduled to participate but canceled Saturday because of conflicting obligations.

Some 1,500 people will process in a candle-lit parade from Covington, across the Roebling Bridge, to the Freedom Center.

Afterward, the Freedom Center, normally closed on Mondays, will open, from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., depending on how many people want to tour it, Britton said. For those who prefer visiting during daylight, center officials will issue tickets.

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