Yesterday, I went to an Underground Railroad tour. Underground Railroad was the term used to describe a network of abolitionists, fugitive slaves, and people who helped escaped slaves on their way to freedom in the North. It began in the 1830's and continued for years.
The tour was the most humbling experience. Upon entry, we were given wrist bands labeled "SLAVE." Then we were seated and watched a video from the History channel (watch excerpts here). Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and Uncle Tom's Cabin were featured. I already learned and remembered most of the facts from elementary/middle school. Every February, we celebrated Black History Month with a game called Bates Battle. We'd earn Bates Bucks and get to purchase items.
In the middle of the video, our group of seven was silently ushered away to begin our journey. Our group of slaves were escaping a plantation in Louisiana and heading North to Midnight (Detroit). We could only travel up to six miles in the still of the night. Our journey took an entire year. Imagine walking in fear for approximately 365 miles. Wow...our ancestors were strong and determined. We learned some of the signals used. For example, a lit lantern meant the safehouse was a stop on the Underground Railroad. It was safe to knock, enter, rest and eat. An inward turned boot on the lawn of a hotel meant that it was okay to check in. If it was turned outward, bounty hunters and slave-catchers were in the hotel so it wasn't safe to lay our heads there. There were no GPS systems or Mapquest back then. All we had was the North Star and green moss on trees to guide us North. Our conductor was very careful, for our safety was in his hands. We didn't lose any packages (escaped slaves) along the way.
Afterward, we had a roundtable discussion with a minister and others participants of the tour. We had the opportunity to share our feelings, knowledge, and learned more history. Again, it was a very humbling experience. There were times that I almost cried at the thought of slavery. I wondered would I be brave enough to escape to freedom? Would I be as strong as my ancestors? Would I risk my own life to lead others to freedom? I'd like to think that I would be a leader and a writer for The North Star, a newspaper created by Frederick Douglass.
Ain't no feeling like being free. Ain't no feeling like being brown. I wouldn't be any other race. Happy Celebrating Black History Month!