This year for Black History Month, if you live anywhere near Cincinnati, Ohio, you can celebrate by visiting a new museum: The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. The museum offers visitors an enlightening and sobering trip on the Underground Railroad. You can learn more than ever about the dangerous trip slaves endured, as they risked their lives, and the lives of their families, seeking freedom.
The Ohio River divided slave states and free states. More than 500 Underground Railroad routes went through Ohio, and Cincinnati was the gateway. Cincinnati was chosen as the new home for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, because it was the last stop in the Underground Railroad. The system ran from 1776 until the Civil War. The Underground Railroad was actually a system of escape routes for African Americans seeking freedom from slavery, not a literal railroad.
A two-story cramped slave pen is the centerpiece of the museum. The pen was recovered from a Kentucky plantation and was sturdily built. It was originally used as a warehouse to store 75 slaves being moved south for sale. The story of John W. Anderson, Mason Country slave trader and owner of the pen, is featured.
If you visit the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati during Black History Month and carefully inspect the metal ring jutting out from its central joist and the barred windows, you might be able to envision how it felt to be herded into the 20-by-30 foot pen and be chained to the ring. Think about the mothers and fathers who had to watch as their children were taken from them and sold, never to be seen again.
The center celebrates not only past heroes, but modern heroes as well. It features people like Gandhi, who worked to make his land free.
Three movies in the museum are narrated by Angela Bassett. There is fiber optic lighting that will recreate dawn and the day Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves.
Caleb, a slave who contemplates the chances of freedom for himself and his family, is featured in another movie. The audience gets to participate by deciding the movie’s ending. Viewers use a touch-screen interface, located outside the exit to the movie, to decide whether Caleb will escape or be captured.
Some have said that children will especially find the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati to be interesting and educational. A man, woman, or child could hide in a hallowed-out bottom wagon. Children might climb into the wagon and pretend to be Henry “Box” Brown, who nailed himself into a crate, to be shipped from Richmond, Virginia, to Philadelphia, Pensylvania, a free state, in 1849. The trip lasted 26 hours.
While many people fought to abolish slavery, many brave men and women quietly helped slaves escape. The ordinary men who helped included ministers, rabbis, educators, former slaves, and Native Americans. During Black History Month at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, you can learn about them too.
People in charge of the museum hope to promote learning and dialogue. If you visit, you will have a chance to talk with other visitors in the glass walled Dialogue Zone. Others may also have opinions to express or questions about the high cost of freedom, the people who helped, and how everyone felt in the days of slavery.
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is located at 50 East Freedom Way in Cincinnati. It is open from Tuesday through Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Ticket prices are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, $8 for children 6 and older, and children younger than 6 get in free.