By Cheryl Brown –
Footsteps to Freedom XIV was once again a success this year with a group of 37 people who retraced the journey enslaved Africans took in their flight for freedom along the Underground Railroad. The first stop was Columbus, Ohio where the participants spent the first night (after a day of traveling) to begin the tour. The Harding Cellar in Wilberforce, Ohio was the destination. Although the participants were disappointed to see the cellar was completely filled in with sand, it is still one of the great sites and one of the great stories of this time period. As many of the historic sites along the Underground Railroad sits on private property, the Harding Cellar was not preserved.
The group traveled to Mayville, Kentucky where Jerry Gore, descendant of Addison White one of the most well known UGRR cases in the Ohio legal annals. Gore took participants to Old Washington, Kentucky and the site of a visit by Harriet Beecher Stowe and the auction block that lead many of the participants to tears. "I don't understand," said Michelle Elias a teacher. Retired polygraph administrator, Peter Dixon did not hide his tears as he felt the pain of his ancestors. "What they had to go through," he said, shaking his hands and tears running down his cheeks.
Jerry Gore told stories and took the group places that only he could tell and go. One of the stories deals with the house that he lives in, that contains a slave jail and in another area a hiding place. Phillips Foley is included on the places of National Historic Records. It has a slave history and recently joined the list of Haunted Houses on the television show Ghost Hunters.
Support for the Footsteps group came from Kentucky State Representative Mike Denham, Mason County Executive Judge Buddy Gallestien and Maysville Mayor David Cartmell, who all came out to welcome the group and they all acknowledged the shameful history of slavery. Many of the group members followed the freedom seekers to Rev. John Rankin's house where Susan West is the docent and has the story of how Rev. Rankin working with John Parker a Black abolitionist in Ripley, Ohio saved hundreds desiring freedom. Ripley was a hotbed of abolition activity. There was Tom Collins the undertaker and Congressman Alexander Campbell, MD., along with many others.
The group also went to the Freedom Center, Underground Railroad Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio. The centerpiece of that site is an original slave jail, which was preserved under aluminum siding. The building used as a tobacco barn in recent years was a holding jail for chattel until the sale could be made. The well documented building is the last that will be allowed to leave Kentucky. Representative Denham introduced legislation to make it illegal to sell the state's major historic items.
This is the end of the first day.
Footsteps to Freedom is sponsored by the National Parks Service Network to Freedom, San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools, through a Teaching American History grant, Riverside County Office of Education and Southwest Airlines.
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