National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

The Promised Land

The Ohio River once marked the difference between the free and the enslaved. Before the Civil War, slave states were to the south and so-called free states were to the north. Today, a suspension bridge built by John A. Roebling (the same Roebling who built the Brooklyn Bridge), spans the distance across this body of water from Kentucky to Ohio, and, just as in days long ago, the promised land still exists. Its form is different today. It resides in the body of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

Designed by Walter Blackman, a grandson of slaves, this center hopes to:
promote an understanding of the horrors of slavery, the active resistance of movements, and the achievement of freedom against the odds.

In addition, it hopes to illustrate much of the progressive enlightenment that has taken place since that horrible time. The exhibits and showings in the museum's several buildings are quite palpable in showing both the evil and hope existent both before and after.

The museum's main exhibit is a 19th century slave pen, entact. Once located on the southern side of the Ohio River, and moved here from a Kentucky farm, its horrors are easy to see, as well as feel. Once a 20 x 30 foot holding pen for "live human merchandise" to be stored and sold, today stands as a reminder of what the loss of freedom can mean for anyone, anywhere. Artifacts accompany the pen as well as a list of its occupants , including "one negro child, Matilda (value $200). Nearby is a glimpse of the enlightenment side, as a film depicts a white man and a free black slave joining forces to help a captive slave escape. This dichotomy or juxtaposition, if you will, is present throught the museum's meandering buildings; enslavement and liberation.

The other primary focus here sheds light on the Underground Railroad, which was the "network of safe houses and guides that helped slaves escape north." Hoping to provide "a great metaphor for the human psyche", by showing races working together to eradicate injustices, it still has to focus on those injustices to illustrate the horrors from which they escaped. For instance, before it can show the organized resistance and the network of hiding places, which to many is more folklore than truth, it still has to show the reality of slaves being chased and caught by "drooling hounds" and slave hunters, so well documented in the film Brothers of the Borderland.

There is also an exhibit recognizing "Everyday Freedom Heroes", which includes those in the past; Frederick Douglas, Martin Luther King, Muhammad Ali, or those of the present; Harvey Milk, Mother Jones, Todd Beamer and Aleksander Solzhenitsyn. Another exhibit chronicles present lessons called The Struggle Continues, with images from the Middle East, as well as the KLu Klux Klan, and topics as diverse as hunger, illiteracy, tyranny, and genocide. One of the most well placed exhibits awaits people at the end of the journey. The Dialogue Room is staffed by social workers to help those who may have become "overwhelmed by the trauma ", or at least offer those with issues, a place to voice them.

Before the opening this summer, the museum and its staff had raised more than $102 million in hopes of expanding its broad base of cultural history. At least 25 African -American cultural buildings are planned across the United States, in addition to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington D.C..All in all, the museum does a courageous job in meeting its mission statement;

To illustrate courage, cooperation and perseverence in the pursuit of freedom; to encourage every individual to take a journey that advances freedom and personal growth and to inspire similar efforts on behalf of freedom in the modern-day world.

New York Times;Wednesday, August 18, 2004.

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