My favorite quilt in NURFC’s And Still We Rise exhibit is Syvia Hernandez's quilt, Birmingham Bombing. Hernandez's quilt commemorates the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, September 15, 1963, and the four girls whose lives became the sacrifice that brought Birmingham to finally face the consequences of its evil actions.
Things in Birmingham had been bad for a very, very long time, but the status quo was also very, very good at hiding that fact from the world. Birmingham was a closed city, hostile to “outsiders” and “agitators,” almost as much as it was hostile to its own poor and African-American citizens. But the horrific death of four girls, on a beautiful church Sunday -- very literally sacred time, especially in this Bible Belt town -- shattered that insulation and the beginning of the end of institutional segregation in Birmingham, and, within a year, the United States, brought about the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Without the deaths of Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley, Birmingham likely could have continued to violently oppress its citizens for many years; it was the women, in this case teenage girls, who brought the fight into the light.
In the historic fight for abolition of slavery, women were at the forefront, likening their own struggle for rights to that struggle for freedom of the enslaved African-American population. They were in a unique position to point out to those in power, often in their own homes, the moral repugnancy of “owning” another human being, of using someone else’s powerlessness to make yourself more powerful. In the same way, the women of the South led the way in the Civil Rights Movement, from Rosa Parks’ refusal to be pushed to the back any longer, finally to that horrible September day when the bombing in Birmingham finally went too far. The women knew that as long as one is enslaved or denied equality, no one can be truly free. We must keep fighting that fight today, reminding everyone that “until justice rolls down like waters,” until we are all free and equal in that freedom, we cannot truly call ourselves the “Land of the Free.”
-Gina Armstrong, IMLS Coca-Cola Museum Studies Apprentice
Join us Oscar Weekend Saturday, March 1 at the Freedom Center, for guided tours of the Solomon Northup Tour! Tours will begin at 11 am and continue throughout the day at the top of every hour until 4pm. The Solomon Northup Tour is inspired by the nine time Oscar nominated major-motion picture, 12 Years a Slave. Visitors will have the opportunity to learn more about Solomon Northup's journey from the curators of the tour and see the rare, first edition copy of Twelve Years a Slave now on display to the public.
Tours are free with general admission. For more information, please call 513.333.7737 and follow us on Twitter @FreedomCenter. #solomonnorthuptour.
-Assia Johnson, PR and Social Media Coordinator
Have you seen the red Xs taking over Facebook today? Or perhaps you joined in and marked your hand with the X yourself. The End It Movement asked the anti trafficking community and its followers to shine a light on slavery by drawing a red X on hands on February 27th. That red X means that you’re telling the world that slavery still exists and you won’t stand for it. By using your influence and your hand, thousands are carrying the message of freedom.
The End It Movement asks individuals to use their voices to tell the world that slavery still exists in three main ways: Be the Billboard, Spread the Word, and Get the Toolkit. By supporting END IT gear you can advertise that slavery still existeverywhere you go.
Then by drawing that red X on your hand, you can tell your Facebook, Instagram and Twitter followers that slavery still exists using #ENDITMOVEMENT. People will start talking and asking questions when they see a sea of red Xs across their streams! Finally, head here to download the End It Movement toolkit. You’ll get a ton of digital resources to do a bunch of things with, like:
Sometimes it’s overwhelming to think about slavery because we don’t know what we can actually do to end it. Not everyone can leave careers and join organizations fighting on the ground – but we don’t all have to. Even if you only have a small amount of time, you can make a valuable contribution. Here is a list of easy ways you can get involved today:
Ending slavery is a challenge that’s been around for many, many years – but it’s one that this generation can implode if it takes it seriously. A red X won’t end slavery, but it raises the awareness of those within your circle of influence. Use that influence wisely, and then take real steps in your own life to address slavery.
We can end slavery in our lifetime. Be in it to end it.
On Tuesday, February 25th, the Freedom Center will host the leaders of the Ohio Department of Public Safety (ODPS), its Office of Criminal Justice Services (OCJS), the Southwestern Ohio branch of the Salvation Army, and the Greater Cincinnati Rescue & Restore Coalition End Slavery Cincinnati. These abolitionists are coming together at the Freedom Center to announce a grant from OCJS to the Salvation Army that will allow for more comprehensive care of trafficking victims in Southwestern Ohio.
The meeting doubles as a working session on the new statewide Human Trafficking Awareness campaign, recently launched by ODPS and the Governor of Ohio’s Human Trafficking Task Force. The members of the End Slavery Cincinnati coalition will be leading the regional effort to share these materials in order to keep the momentum building around awareness in our region.
Adding a healthy dose of sober reflection and inspiration was a group tour of Invisible: Slavery Today that followed the working session.
“Hosting modern day abolitionists like the End Slavery Cincinnati coalition is core to our mission,“ said Luke Blocher of the Freedom Center. “Like the Vigilance Committees of the 19th Century, these groups are on the front lines of serving victims and fighting slavery in our community. We hope, like all of our visitors, they will leave empowered in the knowledge that slavery has been defeated before, and can be again today.”
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is the home to a truly unique collection of artifacts. These pieces of the past share stories of courage, cooperation and perseverance, the cornerstones of freedom movements throughout history.
Earlier this year, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center accepted a very important artifact into the Permanent Collection. An early printing of the First Edition of the book 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup was graciously donated by longtime Freedom Center supporters Francie and John Pepper.
In this narrative, Solomon Northup, born a free man of color, shares his story of being kidnapped into a life of slavery. Solomon was owned by three different men during his twelve years of enslavement, but he never lost the hope of finding freedom. When the opportunity presented itself, Solomon courageously revealed his story to a white gentleman who outwardly opposed the institution of slavery. He agreed to help by sending a letter about Solomon’s enslavement to friends in the North. In 1853, Solomon regained his freedom and returned to his family in New York, a free man. Solomon Northup published his original narrative in 1853, immediately after escaping from slavery.
Curatorial staff at the Freedom Center were thrilled to receive this rare copy of 12 Years a Slave. The book is in excellent condition and can potentially be shared with visitors for years to come. As staff work diligently to reveal stories about the triumph of the human spirit, this book serves as a vehicle for education staff to interpret the lives of individuals who experienced the horrors of chattel slavery in America. Slave narratives like 12 Years a Slave teach us today that a single person has the power to advocate for abolition.
The book 12 Years a Slave is on display in the Hall of Everyday Freedom Heroes gallery. Be sure see this historic book while taking the Solomon Northup Tour at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
Cori Sisler, Manager of Collections and Exhibitions
*Found in Collection is a term used to denote materials not originally part of a large donation or that are undocumented. I’ll be using it to talk about interesting stories not necessarily able to be on display in the NURFC galleries.
In honor of Valentine’s Day, which just passed, I’d like to tell you about some pieces on display and in the archives of the NURFC collection that represent an epic love story the years could easily have buried. NURFC was fortunate to receive a large donation from the Victoria Retirement Center in 2013, containing about 800 items belonging to Charles and Garnetta Lewis of Cincinnati. In inventorying and cataloging these items, we realized that the bulk of the materials were letters written almost daily between Charles, a member of the Army Air Force during World War II, and his wife, while Charles was serving in training in the United States and with the India-China Transport Wing of the AAF during the last year of the war.
The thing that thrills me most about this collection is its ordinariness. Charles Lewis is not a celebrated war hero or even a particular trailblazer. He’s a normal man in a happy marriage, separated from the one he loves. He battles that separation anxiety and loss the only way he knows, by writing to Garnetta –- prodigiously. For every letter in the display cases on the third floor, there are four more in our archives! These are primarily Charles’ letters to Garnetta, who kept each of the letters through the many years between the war and the donation to NURFC. Though some of the letters are Garnetta’s to Charles, I imagine it was much harder for him to keep the bulk of her letters through the many moves required of him during the war, rather than Garnetta not writing to Charles as often as he wrote her.
The lesson I take from Charles and Garnetta’s story is one of perseverance and steadfast love, through the many obstacles life throws at us. Charles served during Jim Crow, and trained in segregated Georgia and Mississippi; yet, his letters are upbeat and focused on his love for Garnetta and his day-to-day life as a soldier -– his despair and frustration are with delays in receiving her letters or with not receiving them! We can all learn a lesson here -- love each other, no matter the obstacles, being solid in that love despite the battering the world gives us.
Gina K. Armstrong, IMLS Coca-Cola Museum Studies Apprentice
Each day in February, the Freedom Center will use its social media channels to highlight a different quilt from the exhibit, which features 85 story quilts narrating 400 years of African American history.
Your family can join in the celebration at the Freedom Center and online via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @freedomcenter #28days28quilts
And Still We Rise, on view now through March 29, narrates 400 years of history in 85 story quilts. The exhibition curated by the founder of the Women of Color Quilter’s Network, Carolyn Mazloomi, Ph.D., chronicles the history of the African American experience, capturing the stories of freedom’s heroes, ranging from Frederick Douglass to the first African American President. The exhibit is sponsored by P&G and ArtsWave.
-Assia Johnson, Public Relations and Social Media Coordinator
The Anti-Slavery Record was an abolitionist series published for the American Anti-Slavery Society by R. G. Williams. The monthly was published in New York and had a three year run from 1835 to 1837. Issues of the Anti-Slavery Record were bought and read in huge numbers while in print. With the intention of sharing anti-slavery sentiments with a broad audience, most issues included an illustration on the first page that depicted the evils of chattel slavery.
Pictured here is the unsigned illustration on the first page of the December 1835 issue of The Anti-Slavery Record. This pamphlet is from the Collection of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
-Cori Sisler, Manager of Collections and Exhibitions
Our friends at the International Justice Mission made an exciting announcement this morning. Their President and CEO, Gary Haugen, released his brand new book, The Locust Effect, which details the reality of brutal, constant, and unchecked violence that confronts most of the world’s poor.
At the Freedom Center we challenge and inspire people to take courageous steps for freedom by telling stories like Gary’s, as we did in our documentary Journey to Freedom. We tell these stories so people will be empowered to join with Gary and IJM, and others like them, in attacking injustices like the scourge of violence that greets the extremely poor at nearly every turn. We tell these stories because true freedom can only come when everyone can enjoy the basic protection from violence that most of the developed world experiences.
Globally, the facts are stunning:
Learn more by visiting Invisible: Slavery Today, the world’s first permanent, museum-quality exhibit on modern slavery, housed at the Freedom Center and developed with Free the Slaves, GoodWeave, International Justice Mission, and Polaris Project,
The Locust Effect gets to the most basic – and perhaps most shocking – point on page 36 of the very first chapter:
“The most fundamental systems of law and order (which communities in affluent countries consider the most basic public service) have been so useless for so long in much of the developing world that violent criminals preying upon the poor don’t give it a second thought – and tragically, much of the world has ceased to give a second thought to fixing or even understanding the breakdown”
Perhaps we’ve been lulled into a sense of complacency by the appearance of justice – by the mirage that is reflected off of the statue books and courtrooms we’ve come to associate with the Rule of Law. Gary’s book shatters the illusion and makes very clear the drastic consequences for the world’s poor.
We simply can’t accept the mere appearance of justice anymore, and The Locust Effect offers a guidepost on how to get started.
Check out this unforgettable video that shows what the world is up against as we work together to help our poorest neighbors. You won’t want to miss the powerful moment at 1:48 - - our fight against poverty is worth safeguarding. Click here to see the video.
Want more? Check out The Locust Effect, by IJM’s president Gary A. Haugen, which releases today.
Note: Luke Blocher, Director of Strategic Initiatives, joined state and national anti-trafficking leaders in Columbus on January 9, 2014 and delivered these remarks. He was joined by keynote speaker Theresa Flores, human trafficking survivor and founder of Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution (SOAP); Ohio Senator Peggy Lehner; Ohio Human Trafficking Coordinator Elizabeth Ranade-Janis; Former CEO of Procter & Gamble and Founding Counselor for the Global Business Coalition Against Human Trafficking John Pepper Jr.; Judges Paul Herbert and Greg Singer; U.S. Attorney Carter Stewart; Director of the Attorney General’s Division of Children’s Initiatives Melinda Sykes; and human trafficking survivors.
You can watch the remarks below or at The Ohio Channel, a service of Ohio’s Public Broadcasting stations. Freedom Center Honorary Co-Chair of the Board, Mr. John Pepper’s remarks begin at 66:03. Luke Blocher’s remarks follow, beginning at 86:52. Both can be watched in 35 minutes.
The Freedom Center is a museum on the banks of the Ohio River in Cincinnati. We are located there, on the border between slave and free states, because close to 60% of all the courageous slaves who fled north on the Underground Railroad in the years leading up to the Civil War did so by crossing the Ohio within 30 miles of our location.
Our mission is to tell the stories of freedom’s heroes, from the era of the Underground Railroad, through to contemporary times, inspiring and challenging people to take courageous steps for freedom today.
In other words, we stand firmly rooted in an era that revealed the best of courage, cooperation, and perseverance…and demand that people do better today.
We do this through our exhibits, through programming we host in our building, and – increasingly – through digital content and media.
So what is it that we say people should learn from this history, as it relates to the challenges we face today?
First: Slavery is not a historical concept. The form of legal, chattel slavery that dominated our nation’s politics for much of our first 100 years is, Thank God, a piece of history. But the exploitation and control of one human by another, for the purposes of one profiting from the other’s labor, continues. It continued in this country after the Civil War, as it did around the world. And it continues everywhere today, including here in our State.
Importantly, though - and this is the main point I want to make today to this audience – abolition is not a historic concept either. In our schools and in our culture, we celebrate the conductors on the Underground Railroad, and the abolitionists who fought for decades to end legalized American slavery, as unvarnished and uncontroversial heroes.
You may recall from your history books, however, that the idea slavery could be outlawed was, for many, many years, a ridiculous proposition. Indeed, it is hard to conceive of an economic and cultural force more potent than “the slave power” of the first half of the 19th century. Yet these abolitionists fought day by day; they built a movement, brick by brick. And eventually, they won.
Today we face a different battle. Instead of a concentrated political and economic elite, we face the forces of ignorance and indifference, and of shadowy but highly organized criminal networks who feed on both.
But while the game may have changed, the way to win has not - the simple truth remains that a collection of committed individuals, united around the basic cause of human freedom, can stamp out slavery.
Indeed, to paraphrase Margaret Mead, it is the only thing that ever has.
This is the story we tell at the Freedom Center, so that the people we touch will recognize slavery is still a problem they must confront, and believe they have the power to do something about it.
YOU are our evidence. The people in this room, and the people all across the world who continue the work of the great 19th Century Abolitionists. YOU demonstrate that abolition is not merely a historic concept.
Think about it this way:
At the Freedom Center, we celebrate how John Parker, himself a former slave, traveled into Kentucky from Ripley, Ohio to ferry escaping slaves across the Ohio River to freedom. TODAY, people like the Salvation Army and International Justice Mission and so many others similarly extend their hand to help people escape their traffickers. But we can do more.
Back then in Ripley, the Rev. John Rankin opened his home to keep runaway slaves safe as they continued their journey to freedom. TODAY, safe houses do this same work here, at places like the Oasis House, and around the world. Although we need much more.
In 19th century Cincinnati, Katie Coffin opened her home as a transitional place, for escaping slaves to reclaim their mental, physical and spiritual health. TODAY, many different transitional homes staffed with dedicated caregivers provide a sanctuary for survivors to move from slavery to a true and empowered freedom. Although, again, we need more.
A Governor who sat in this very building, Salmon Chase, was first a lawyer in Cincinnati who regularly challenged the system of legal slavery and advocated on behalf of escaping slaves in court. TODAY, lawmakers like Theresa Fedor are making policy that allows lawyers and investigators to bring traffickers to justice for the first time, and to change the cost-benefit analysis of choosing a life of criminal trafficking. But we need more.
Most importantly, back then people like Frederick Douglass, Solomon Northup, and Harriett Jacobs - men and women of almost unfathomable courage - had the will, the temerity, to escape from slavery and then to spend their lives telling their story and forcing our country to face the ugly truth of chattel slavery. TODAY, we have heroes like Theresa Flores, Rachel Lloyd and my new friend Katalea from Wright State who do the same. Their impact, and their courage, can’t possibly be overstated. As Rep Flores and I were discussing last night, we need to give them an even greater voice.
These are the stories that we tell. We tell them in our exhibits, like the world’s first museum quality exhibit Invisible: Slavery Today; in our programming, like the annual reception with the State Department Trafficking in Person Report Heroes and the unique academics-to-activism Historians against Slavery Conference;
and in media like our original documentary Journey to Freedom. This film, which is available on youtube and dvd, tells the parallel stories of Solomon Northup in 1840 and Cambodian Prum Vannak. You may have heard of Solomon’s story from the new film 12 Years a Slave. Vannak’s story is eerily similar, but it took place in Southeast Asia less than ten years ago. The film also tells the parallel stories of abolitionists in each era, and concludes by asking viewers to join the network of these abolitionists which spans hundreds of years and every continent. It has been screened at over 50 US embassies around as an integral part of the U.S. State Department’s public programming, and is available for use by anyone who wants to introduce this topic to broad audiences.
This has been our part of this movement, but WE need to do more. More to tell your stories, so that others join this movement.
That’s why n the coming months, we will be re-launching a website and anti-trafficking resource called EndSlaveryNow. This will be a place anyone can go, to easily, but comprehensively, get an introduction to what modern slavery is, where it is happening around the world, and who is doing what to respond to it.
We will also present the full spectrum of the response to trafficking - from awareness, rescue, and prosecution, to aftercare, transition, and empowerment – as well as a way to connect to the organizations focused on each of these elements.
And finally, we’ll provide a FULL picture of the many ways a committed individual can act – today – to attack human trafficking and modern slavery around the world and in their communities.
In this way, we hope End Slavery Now will act as a funnel: attracting people (through the magic of Search Engine Optimization) who may just be learning about modern slavery and human trafficking, educating them as to the true scope and scale of the challenge, and then funneling them to the organizations and issues that most align with their hearts and their passion.
We believe there will be two keys to the success of this effort. First, it must be comprehensive. We are fortunate that the original creators of this resource had close relationships with many of the leading national and global NGOs. To this base, we’re adding a state-by-state directory of anti-trafficking organizations. In Ohio, we will of course be relying on the incredible work already undertaken by Liz Rainade-Janis and the Deparment of Public Safety in this area. We will welcome your comments and suggestions at all times as to what we may be missing, though.
Just as important as this depth, though, will be the way the information presented. This, like everything we do at the Freedom Center, will be done through stories. We will explain the many forms and locations of modern slavery through the stories of the individuals affected by it; we will present the spectrum of modern abolition by highlighting the people and organizations that are leading this charge. I’ve already spoken to some of you here about how we might feature your organizations – and your stories – as a way to reach more people with your message, and ultimately to inspire action. I hope to talk to many more of you about this in the coming months.
This project, As we have begun to say, has a very simple purpose: We all have a role in ending slavery in our communities and around the world. At End Slavery Now, we help you find yours
Let me close by saying this:
The Freedom Center and other museums of conscience and educational institutions exist to tell the stories of heroic people. We exist because people throughout time have chosen to stand up against injustice, and demand change. We exist because of people like you.
And for that I simply want to say thank you, and don’t stop.
This website was funded by the U.S. Department of Education Underground Railroad Educational and Cultural (URR) Program