Underground Railroad Freedom Center
museum offers rare look
at slavery in America
CINCINNATI (June 2005) Located on the northern
banks of the Ohio River in Cincinnati, the National Underground Railroad
Freedom Centers location was once the crossroads to freedom for
fugitive slaves escaping to free northern states. First proposed in
1994 and incorporated in 1995, the National Underground Railroad Freedom
Center opened in August 2004.
by Don Ward
National Underground Railroad
Freedom Center overlooks the
Ohio River in downtown Cincinnati.
Architect Walter Blackburn, the grandson of former slaves,
designed the centers three buildings that total 158,000 square
feet. They represent courage, cooperation and perseverance. The metaphorically
rich curving architecture reflects the winding river and the challenging
path to freedom.
Most scholars estimate that as many as 40 percent of all freedom seekers
crossed the Ohio Rivers freedom corridor, which spans
from Maysville, Ky., to Madison, Ind. The Freedom Center sits at the
center of the 200-mile stretch of towns along the Ohio River that played
significant roles in the freedom stories of Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio.
The emotional connection that Americans have to personal stories
of freedom, combined with innovative and imaginative methods of storytelling,
will make this one of the nations most memorable museum experiences
ever, said Dr. Spencer Crew, Freedom Center Executive Director
Through artifacts and interactive exhibits, the center brings historical
and present day freedom struggles to the forefront. Traveling the recommended
path through the museum, guests will first experience the two-story
Slave Pen. It was rescued and restored by museum officials and donated
by the current land-owner of the Pinecrest Farm near Maysville, Ky.
There the Slave Pen was used in the 1800s to house slaves during the
selling process. It is the centers defining artifact.
Next, visitors will enter the Suite for Freedom Theater. It serves as
an introduction to the Freedom Centers core themes: UnFreedom,
slavery and the Underground Railroad.
It was taken into consideration in the centers design that people
learn in different ways, said Steve DeVillez, public relations coordinator
for the Freedom Center. The Freedom Theater is just the first example
of the multiple and sometimes untraditional mediums used throughout
The rest of the journey through the Freedom Center includes visits to
Brothers of the Borderland; From Slavery to Freedom; Everyday Freedom
Heroes and The Struggle Continues.
by Debra Maylum
the museum are many impressive displays.
The exhibits feature powerful stories, celebrations of
heroes and images of injustice. Through these experiences, guests take
on the roles of victim, oppressor, bystander, freedom seeker and ally.
At the end of the very personal journey, guests enter the final exhibit
where they are given the opportunity to make sense of everything they
have seen. Trained counselors are available, and often lead one on one
or group discussions among visitors who are welcome to participate or
simply listen in.
Freedom Center officials know that just as people learn in different
ways, they like to express themselves in different ways.
Reflect, Respond, Resolve, the final exhibit, is a welcoming
space where guests can discover their own way to become engaged in todays
efforts for freedom. Through interactive stands, visitors are able to
reflect on what they have seen and find ways to put their new perspective
to good use.
How many visitors we have is not as important as what those visitors
are going to do when they leave here, said DeVillez.
In its mission to promote Underground Railroad history, the Freedom
Center additionally encourages guests to visit Freedom Stations
and heritage sites around the country.
Many sites in Southern Indiana and Northern Kentucky are mentioned and
as more research throughout the freedom corridor is completed,
this area will likely become increasingly important to the overall story.
The National Underground Railroad Freedom
Center is located at 50 E. Freedom Way in downtown Cincinnati. For information,
call (513) 333-7500 or visit: www.freedomcenter.org.
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