Freedom Center Voices

Tuesday, January 14, 2014 - 12:01pm

The Origins of Civil Rights In America

The Frederick Douglass Story

On Feb. 1, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center will kick-off Black History Month with the Cincinnati Childrens Theater's production of The Frederick Douglass Story. In reverence of the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the national Black History theme is Civil Rights in America. Though we should celebrate this great milestone, we should not forget that the fight for civil rights began before the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.  It can be argued that the early civil rights leaders were men like David Walker. David Walker’s Appeal, published in 1829, was a document that instilled pride within people of color and gave hope that change would come one day. He spoke against colonization, a movement that sought to move free Blacks to a colony in Africa. Walker believed that America belonged to all who helped build it, especially the enslaved.

The history of civil rights in America is largely the story of African Americans and people of color, defining themselves in the ongoing struggle to obtain the inalienable rights promised to all Americans. Walker’s ideas about America were handed down to many who become defenders of the oppressed and fighters of freedom, regardless of race and gender.  Frederick Douglass is part of this continuum of social justice and equal treatment. Douglass was a commanding speaker who compelled audiences as he toured America and overseas. Douglass is one of the most respected and iconic leaders in our country’s history. My favorite Douglass quote is, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle.”

Douglass was a man who not only understood the need for freedom and justice, he also understood the necessary sacrifice in having freedom and justice. Through the tool of performing art, join me at the Freedom Center on Feb. 1, and learn more about the brilliance of a man who was an outspoken leader of social justice.  Click here for more information on tickets and performance times.


Christopher Miller, Manager of Program Initiatives

Friday, January 3, 2014 - 3:59pm

Become a Freedom Conductor

Volunteer with the Freedom Center!

[Photo Caption:] A school group on a tour listens to one of our historical interpreters.

Here at the Freedom Center, one of the most powerful ways we reveal stories of freedom’s heroes is by offering guided tours of our exhibits to groups. Many of these tours are given to students from local and regional schools and tie into the work they do in their classes.  Tours are essential for us to communicate our message of Courage, Cooperation, Perseverance, and Freedom to the public, and most of these tours are led by our volunteer docents.

Volunteering to give tours at the Freedom Center is a richly rewarding experience. Recently, I have been lucky enough to lead kindergarteners on tours that include our special exhibition,  And Still We Rise. The young students enjoy being able to see the quilts up close, and are eager to share the stories they see in the artworks. When the groups listen to our historical interpreters, participating with their voices and their hands, it is a delight to see them learning concepts of self-worth and how to respect others. Through leading tours, docents are able to have a positive impact on students’ understanding of history and their relationship to freedom. Each tour challenges visitors to take steps for freedom today.

The Freedom Center is currently recruiting new volunteers to help us carry out this key part of our mission. Volunteer docents are essential and valued members of the Freedom Center family. We are looking for individuals who are willing to work with the public, and we appreciate a diverse group of volunteers who bring a variety of skills to the Center. Volunteer hours are flexible and we provide training on the material covered in tours. I hope you will consider joining us.

To learn more about volunteering, please contact Novella Nimmo at nnimmo@nurfc.org or 513.333.7561 or visit our volunteer page for an application.

-Nancy Yerian, AmeriCorps Member, Ohio Local History Corps

Wednesday, December 18, 2013 - 11:57pm

Flame Friday: Celebrating Everyday Freedom Heroes

What is Flame Friday?

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center welcomes thousands of visitors annually, all with unique stories, backgrounds and world views.  Though our exhibits, docent-led school tours and unique programming, visitors learn about institutionalized slavery in America and about the network of abolitionists who fought to see its end in the 1800s. Of those visitors, there are many that seek the stories of the Underground Railroad on their personal journey to join the network of modern abolitionists, fighting against modern forms of slavery and human trafficking. Their stories are amazing and inspiring and we feel compelled to share their stories with all of you!

How Can I Share My Story?

Flame Friday is unique way for visitors to engage with the Freedom Center and other modern abolitionsits via social media. Visitors can share their personal journey in enabling freedom when they take pictures with the Eternal Flame, located on the third floor just outside of the From Slavery to Freedom Exhibit.  Once you take your picture, tag it #FlameFriday along with your story online, and via Instagram or Twitter. The Freedom Center will share #FlameFriday stories on Fridays. We encourage everyone to share their story and how they use Freedom's Flame to light the way for others!



-Assia Johnson, Public Relations and Social Media Coordinator


Image: (Top) Visiting students from Hughes High School in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Bottom, from left to right): Brooke Hathaway, Project Manager of Strategic Initiatives, Freedom Hero Josephine Kulea, founder and director of the Samburu Girls Foundation and Luke Blocher, Director of National Strategic Initiatives.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013 - 11:29pm

Historical Perspectives On Slavery

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center uses an expanding archival collection to gain valuable historic perspectives on the institution of slavery. After all, it is undoubtedly difficult for the 21st century person to completely understand many different aspects of 19th century life in America.  Historic newspapers, pamphlets and memoirs are just several examples of primary resources that paint a vivid picture of the horrors of slavery, the Underground Railroad Movement and the lives of abolitionists across the country.

One of the few, detailed accounts of the commercial slave trade by a participant was captured in the memoirs of Captain Theodore Canot, a slave trader for nearly three decades.  Originally written in 1854, Adventures of an African Slaver: Being the True Account of the Life of Captain Theodore Canot, Trader of Gold, Ivory and Slaves on the Coast of Guinea is filled with information on nearly every aspect of the slave trade in the 1800s.  The text details Canot’s extensive travels into the interior of Africa to buy slaves, the treatment of enslaved Africans on slave ships, the suppression of a slave revolt at sea, as well as financial tables that expose the expenses and profits of his involvement in the slave trade.

A 1928 edition of Captain Theodore Canot’s memoirs edited by Malcolm Cowley is on display in the From Slavery to Freedom exhibition at the Freedom Center.  In an exhibition space that is meant to commemorate those that survived and died during the Transatlantic Slave Trade, this book serves as a reminder that the historic institution of slavery functioned as a business that offered no sustenance to those it enslaved. 


-Cori Sisler, Manager of Collections and Exhibitions


Thursday, December 12, 2013 - 3:42pm

"12 Years A Slave" Relevance to Today

As I mentioned last month, Fox Searchlight released its new film, “12 Years a Slave” last Friday night in theaters across America. Staff and friends of the Freedom Center were treated to a sneak preview in Cincinnati a week ago, and after finally seeing the film I can attest to its incredible value. Within our museum walls we discuss slavery every day – but it’s an entirely different thing to see the brutality and violence of this institution on screen. I cried and winced and looked away. It’s uncomfortable, unnerving, and horrible. Yet this film is so necessary – to every American certainly, but I daresay to all of humanity.

Solomon’s Story Isn’t Over

The film has a particular connection to our world today because slavery didn’t end with the Emancipation Proclamation or men like Solomon being freed. There are up 30 million people enslaved in the world today according to the recently released Global Slavery Index by our friends at Walk Free Foundation.

Men, women and children are no longer owned as property as they were in the American South. We call that form of enslavement “chattel slavery” or the legal ownership of a human being by another. The U.S. ended this form of enslavement in 1865, but the final country, Mauritania, to eliminate chattel slavery didn’t do so until 1981.

But there are still many forms of enslavement that persist throughout the world. Forced labor, domestic servitude, child labor, sexual enslavement and bonded labor can be found in hundreds of countries today. Then factor in child brides – girls given in marriage at ages as young as eight years old – and child soldiers, both of which we consider forms of enslavement because children are forced against their will to participate and cannot walk away.

The Global Slavery Index provides a ranking of 162 countries, reflecting a combined measure of three factors: estimated prevalence of modern slavery by population, a measure of child marriage, and a measure of human trafficking in and out of a country.

What About the United States?

The Global Slavery Index ranked Mauritania, Haiti, Pakistan and India as the countries with highest prevalence of modern slavery. Conversely, it ranked the countries with the lowest prevalence of modern slavery, and the United States didn’t even make the top ten. Modern slavery isn’t just a problem in other countries – it’s a problem here.

In 2011, more than 10,000 people called the U.S. based hotline from every single state to request emergency assistance, report a tip, find services for survivors, request more information and more. That’s a 64% increase from 2010 – a reflection of the growing awareness of trafficking.

And people enslave others in both labor trafficking and sex trafficking situations here in the U.S. Labor traffickers commonly force people to work in agriculture and farms, as domestic servants, in restaurants and food service, in peddling and begging rings, as hostesses and dancers in strip clubs, in factories, and in the hospitality industry. In the U.S., these forms of labor trafficking are much more common than people realize.

Sex trafficking in the U.S. occurs in fake massage businesses, residential brothels, strip clubs, escort services and truck stops. It’s often facilitated through the internet and street prostitution. Sex trafficking occurs when people – men and women – are forced or coerced into the commercial sex trade against their will. It includes any child involved in commercial sex.

Abolition Didn’t End With Emancipation

Slavery didn’t end with the Civil War, but neither did abolition. Check out some of our partner organizations who are leading projects across the world to stop enslavers and restoring survivors to lives of freedom.

Free the Slaves operates on the frontlines in six different countries, liberating slaves, helping survivors, and working for systemic solutions.

International Justice Mission has ongoing operations in 16 cities in Cambodia, the Philippines, Thailand, India, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia, Bolivia and Guatemala, and has Casework Alliance Partnerships in Ecuador and Peru.

Polaris Project works in the United States and is committed to combating human trafficking through the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, client services and policy advocacy.

Made in a Free World focuses on supply chains, showing consumers that today’s supply chains enslave more people than at any time in human history. “That smart phone. That t-shirt, computer, cup of coffee… That’s stuff we buy, and that’s stuff that comes from slaves.”

Have You Seen the Film, Yet?

Director Steve McQueen honored Solomon’s story by sticking largely to his original narrative. And the actors gave incredible performances that certainly merit an Academy Award.

I cannot encourage you enough to go and see it – and take friends and family. Start talking about the past, and share with others that this brutal treatment, this enslavement of human beings continues to occur today.

Read Solomon Northup’s Autobiography, Twelve Years a Slave

If you’re interested in reading Solomon’s memoir by the same name, I recommend Twelve Years a Slave – Enhanced Edition by Dr. Sue Eakin (available for Kindle, in audiobook, and in paperback).  If you prefer listening to audiobooks, then you can download the book read by actor Louis Gossett, Jr. and use the promo code FREEDOM. When you purchase the audiobook at Downpour.com and use the code at checkout, we will receive a donation of 20% of your net sales price. Downpour.com is partially owned by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Use of the code will not impact the purchase price.                  -Brooke Hathaway, Project Manager of Strategic Initiatives

Wednesday, December 11, 2013 - 8:23pm

Education Beyond The Classroom: Lessons for Students and Educators

Educators are some of the most innovative people who effectively invent creative ways to help children become lifelong learners. In today’s global and ever changing technological society, educators are always faced with the challenge of helping children bridge the gap between the era of the Underground Railroad and contemporary times. At the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, we offer creative Educator Institutes and Workshops that can assist educators with teaching and learning outside of the classroom.

Our education team is preparing institutes and workshops for 2014 that range in topics from Female Heroes of the Civil War to Freedom Summer to the Rwandan Genocide. On February 5, 2014 the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center will host a National Youth Summit where participating students will be encouraged to think of themselves as makers of history and asked to consider their ability to be active and engaged citizens. Civil rights activists and Freedom School internship participants will participate in a panel discussion about the 1964 youth-led effort to end the political disenfranchisement of African Americans in the Deep South, and discuss the role of young people in shaping America's past and future. A live video link between the National Youth Summit panel and regional Town Hall sites will enable young people from across the country to participate in the Summit via webcast, allowing them to submit questions for the panel through webchat email, Facebook, and Twitter.                                                                               

Join us on February 27 for a collaborative workshop as we explore the history of the Rwandan genocide and American's response, or lack thereof, before hearing the eyewitness testimony of Carl Wilkens. This worshop is featured as part of a collaborative session with the Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education. Teachers will delve into this history with fellow educators across the greater Cincinnati area and receive hands-on resources to bring back into their classrooms.                                                 

On March 14, educators will have the opportunity to receive a toolbox of ideas and a packet of materials about Lucy Higgs Nichols facilitated by the Carnegie Center for Art & History (New Albany, Indiana). The purpose of the workshop is for educators to learn the stories of courageous women from the era of the Civil War to the Civil Rights movements while focusing on the story of Lucy Higgs Nichols, an African American Civil War nurse in an all white regiment. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is not only a museum, but an institution of teaching and learning outside of the classroom for educators and students. For more information about any of the programs listed, please visit events and programming.                                      - Kieli Ferguson, Educational Initiatives Manager

Friday, December 6, 2013 - 3:58pm

Remembering Nelson Mandela

Along with freedom lovers around the world, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center mourns the loss of Nelson Mandela, one of history’s greatest leaders. We also pause to celebrate and reflect on his life’s work, and the inspiration he will continue to provide for countless generations.

Our president, Clarence “C.G.” Newsome, offered these words of reflection yesterday:

“As the leader of South Africa’s fight for freedom for all, Nelson Mandela is a true International Freedom Conductor. His reverence for justice, heroism and his transformative leadership made an immeasurable impact on the world. He showed relentless perseverance that he would realize freedom for himself and his people. Through his cooperation with all sides, even his oppressors, he brought unity and stability to South Africa. And, through his courage to bring about change, he led a peaceful transition to democracy. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center honors the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela, which will continue to inspire us all. I call upon the citizens of the world to dedicate and recommit themselves to the ideals he personified and to which he held true throughout his life, which will be no less meaningful and powerful, even with his death.”

Please join us in celebrating the legacy of Nelson Mandela by stopping in the Freedom Center to leave your “6 Words 4 Mandela.” No admission required. You may also leave your thoughts on Twitter @6Words4Mandela, #6Words4Mandela.

Some of your words will be shared via our Twitter and Facebook accounts, and also used in a future exhibit about Mandela’s life.


-The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

Wednesday, December 4, 2013 - 5:04pm

Cincinnati Connections:

Union Baptist Church of Cincinnati

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center serves as the caretaker for many artifacts that help tell the story of historical slavery and abolitionist efforts in America.  A truly remarkable set of artifacts that the Freedom Center has the pleasure of caring for is a collection of hand-written church records from Union Baptist Church of Cincinnati, Ohio.  The records date back to 1831, thirty-four years before the end of the Civil War. 

Union Baptist Church was established on July 21, 1831, after fourteen members of the community came together to celebrate their religion in freedom.  It was the first African American church in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Union Baptist Church is historically recognized for outwardly opposing the institution of slavery and for their missionary work.  Church members were devoted abolitionists, and as membership grew, the church hosted numerous abolitionist speakers including Henry Ward Beecher, Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison.  During a time when many escaped slavery by crossing the Ohio River into Cincinnati, Union Baptist Church functioned as a sanctuary for those traveling on the Underground Railroad.  Nearly 185 years after settling in Cincinnati, the church continues to serve as a beacon of community enlightenment and a model for social integrity.

Pages from the Union Baptist Church records are on display in the Freedom Center’s From Slavery to Freedom exhibition.  The documents on display are rotated monthly in an effort to preserve the aged archival material.  During the month of December, museum visitors can see the hand-written meeting minutes from February 27, 1852 and a membership book dating to the 1900s.

-Cori Sisler, Manager of Collections and Exhibitions

Friday, November 22, 2013 - 11:01am

Remembering President Kennedy

1963 was a momentous year in America.  A collision of several forces focusing on race and power in America was underway. 

A bomb exploded on September 15 at the Sixteenth Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama killing 4 girls who were primping in the church basement in anticipation of the roles they had developed for the main church service of that morning.  The response worldwide to the killing of the angels of Sixteenth Street Baptist church was one of outrage.  President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert Kennedy who served as the United States Attorney General were being drawn into the accelerating drama of race, class and violence in America.  The Kennedys, Harvard men, sons of Joseph Kennedy, Sr. who had made his wealth in the rough and tumble world of bootlegging in the 1920’s, had been raised in a compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, found themselves walking a tightrope from crisis to crisis during that year.

November brought lower temperatures across America, and while the issues that had taken center stage in America had not been resolved, President Kennedy welcomed the opportunity to fly to Texas and spread his charismatic charm.  November 22, 1963, Air Force One landed at Fort Worth, and when the plane rolled to a stop and the door opened, President Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline descended the steps of the plane to cheers, waving arms and smiling faces.  The president was in his element.  Texas Governor John Connally had a gnawing in the pit of his stomach weeks before the arrival of the Kennedys, and he had visited the White House in an effort to convince the President’s advisors to postpone his Texas trip if not outright cancel it.  The momentum of planning and the possibility of Kennedy being able to get out of Washington and do something other than put out and/or dampen racial tensions and violence was such that there would be no stopping, and Gov. Connally, a Democrat, became an active part of the Kennedy entourage that flew to Texas.

John F. Kennedy, at 43, was the 35th President of the United States, and was the youngest president America had chosen since its beginning.  Kennedy succeeded President Dwight Eisenhower and he became involved in Cold War issues.  He was at his best when he delivered a speech in the divided city of East and West Berlin during which he called West Berlin “the showplace of the free world surrounded by Communism.”  He described himself as a “Berliner” stating that “all free men wherever they may live are citizens of Berlin.”  At home in the United States the summer of 1963 moved with such overwhelming intensity that it appeared that the President had difficulty seeing freedom in the divided cities of Birmingham, Jackson, Mississippi and Chicago in the same light, but for the moment in Fort Worth, the sea of smiling faces and the eager hands of Texans, young and old, gave him hugs and cheers.  Those faces and smiles energized Kennedy to the point that the Secret Service spent the day chasing him as he would leave his car unannounced and plunge into the ocean of love.  Kennedy was in stride. The next stop would be Love Field in Dallas where again President Kennedy was greeted by a multitude of adoring people. The Secret Service was able to contain the President in a more effective style this time since the President was aware that he had an audience of 2500 people who would be awaiting him at the Dallas, Texas Trade Mart for a luncheon speech.  At Dallas the customized Lincoln that had been prepared for the President by the Hess & Eisenhardt Company of Cincinnati awaited and its Plexiglas bubble top had been removed since the weather was sunny and the President wanted to see and be seen by the people of Dallas.  Kennedy had to come to Texas.  Kennedy had to visit the South.  For while he was uncomfortable at times with America’s most overriding domestic issue, race, he had developed an outline for civil rights legislation that he wanted passed by the United States Congress.  With the drama and almost war-like response to the civil rights demonstrations in Southern cities and in some Northern cities, it was important that for the first attempt to pass civil rights legislation since passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1875 that President Kennedy visit a Southern city and openly talk about civil rights being an essential element of America’s worldwide image.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy travelled to the Berlin Wall touting the virtue of American democracy and chose to publicly confront the unspoken ugly of legally sanctioned racism in America. Kennedy and his administration became entangled with Alabama Gov. George Wallace over Wallace threatening to “stand in the schoolhouse door” to prevent the admission of 2 Black students to the University of Alabama.  In June 1963, the President would send a message to Congress asking that Congress “help end rancor, violence, disunity and national shame” by passing a civil rights bill. He was on his way to court and respectfully confront the White leadership of Dallas, Texas, a Southern town, accompanied by Gov. John Connally and his wife Nellie, and also in the company of his Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson, the most powerful member of the United States Senate of that era.  The Lincoln would leave Love Field headed for downtown Dallas following a route that with few exceptions was lined with waving and cheering people.  In the Elm Street and Houston Street corridor near the Elm Street underpass individuals who awaiting the president recalled hearing a sharp sound that caused many of them to fall to the ground attempting to be safe.  They would rise to find that the 35th President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, was gone.

In an AP article dated Saturday, November 23, 1963, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren was quoted as saying President Kennedy was assassinated “as a result of the hatred and bitterness that has been injected into the life of our nation by bigots.”  The Dallas Morning News, established in 1842, in its Saturday, November 23rd, 1963 lead editorial began with the following—“The assassination is a cruel and shameful mark in this city’s history and a tragedy for the country which has been under his guidance.”  In a summation of the legacy of Kennedy’s presidency of the United States in articles on pages 4 and 5 The Dallas Morning News focused on Kennedy’s policies and behavior that the newspaper felt would transfer power from the states to the federal government in 2 distinct areas—race and the power of American businesses’ compensation to their employees (minimum wages, prices of steel).  The newspaper concluded its thoughts in the lead editorial, “Those who have been concerned with the expansion of governmental control and power nevertheless admired the sincerity and conviction of his philosophy, the gentlemanly restraint he showed in the face of criticism and the good taste he always exhibited in public appearance.”  Lyndon Baines Johnson would be sworn in as President of the United States in the presidential plane at Dallas, Texas’ Love Field with Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy standing at his side.  Johnson, a man who had served several terms as a United States Senator, emerged from Air Force One a few hours later as President of the United States.  Johnson took off the gloves when necessary and at the same time would use his charm and Texas drawl, and yet people understood that he would not accept “no” as an answer on the passage of civil rights legislation.  President Johnson also understood and openly expressed to anyone who would listen that passage of civil rights legislation would end the power of the Democratic Party in the American South, yet he didn’t turn back.  He would become the anchor man that would receive the baton of the Kennedy legacy and civil rights legislation would be enacted by the United States Congress in 1964.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             -Carl Westmoreland, Historian                           

Source: The Dallas Morning News November 23, 1963


Friday, November 15, 2013 - 1:54pm

12 Years a Slave and the new Solomon Northup Tour at the Freedom Center

On October 22, I along with my Freedom Center family, previewed the new major motion picture, 12 Years a Slave based on Solomon Northup’s novel also entitled 12 Years a Slave. The film, directed by Steve McQueen and now playing nation-wide, is an absolute must- see.  From beginning to end, 12 Years a Slave took me on such an emotional journey. I cried as I saw the hardships and turmoil Solomon faced as Chiwetel Ejiofor expertly brought Solomon Northup to life.

Once I left the theater, I returned to the book. A swirl of questions engulfed me as I followed along with Louis Gossett Jr.’s narration that I simply couldn’t ignore: How accurate was Solomon Northup’s narrative to institutionalized slavery in America and what became of Solomon Northup and his family? Lucky for me, the wonderful historians at the Freedom Center tackled the questions I had in our new Solomon Northup Tour.

The Solomon Northup Tour takes you on a seven stop journey starting from the second floor just outside the Slave Pen to From Slavery to Freedom to the very last stop just outside of Invisible: Slavery Today. Along the way I gained in-depth knowledge about the slave trade, the women’s suffrage movement that intersected with the Abolitionist movement, and the laws Solomon Northup was up against as he and his lawyers fought to seek justice in the courts. I was floored and my questions were answered. This tour is a fantastic supplementary tool that bridges the gaps and provides greater connections to our shared history.

Learn more about the Solomon Northup Tour and follow us on twitter, @FreedomCenter #SolomonNorthupTour

-Assia Johnson, PR and Social Media Coordinator