“OK, so who are the most important people at the Freedom Center?” I asked the Youth Docents. We were doing a training on communication and customer service, and to be honest the answer I was fishing for was “visitors.” The first answer I got, however, was an important reminder.
“The people in the exhibits. The abolitionists and conductors.” Of course, this Youth Docent was right! Our visitors, our audience, the community we work in and seek to educate are very important. But so are the Freedom Heroes whose stories we tell. It reminded me of a college professor who used to tell us that we studied history “to honor the lived experiences” of the people we read about.
Why should we honor their experiences? Because the Freedom Heroes are inspiring – but they are much more than an inspiration. Freedom Heroes from abolitionists to Civil Rights activists were trailblazers who risked their reputations and their lives for a more just and free society. We would not be where we are today without their courage and perseverance.
Yet most of these people never received recognition in their lifetimes. Just the opposite, in fact: many were ridiculed, outcast, threatened or confronted with violence. Many abolitionists were heckled and threatened when speaking in public. Several Civil Rights leaders were assassinated for their activism. Because of the challenging and often thankless work they did, we owe it to them to honor their stories, just as we owe it to future generations to continue the struggle.
- Nancy Yerian, AmeriCorps Member, Ohio History Service Corps