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Freedom Road

The amazing story of how people escaped slavery in the United States is celebrated at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Underground Railroad was neither underground nor a railroad. It was a network of people who helped thousands of enslaved Africans in Southern states escape to Northern states, Canada, and Mexico. The center opened to the public in the summer of 2004.

People riding the Underground Railroad often had to travel hundreds of miles to reach freedom. They fled through woods, over fields, and across rivers.

The homes or farms where the escapees would secretly rest were called stations, and those who ran those stations were called station-masters. Conductors were the guides who took the people escaping slavery from one station to the next. The Underground Railroad passed through 29 states and Washington, D.C.

Secret History

Today, the Underground Railroad is recognized as an important part of U.S. history. Since 1990, many people have joined the effort to preserve the history of the Underground Railroad. “The interest [in the Underground Railroad] is unbelievable,” said Phyllis Dowsett, of the Southwestern Michigan Tourist Council.

Interest in the Underground Railroad is high, but tracing its history is difficult. The railroad had to be kept secret because there were laws against helping people escape slavery.

Few people dared to write about their experiences. Escaped slaves passed information by word of mouth from generation to generation instead. Those who helped seldom wrote about the experience either, or destroyed their writings because they feared getting caught. Despite the difficulty, historians are uncovering the story of the Underground Railroad and telling it to the public.

The Underground Railroad Today

Visiting the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is one way to learn this story. Another way people can learn more is by following the National Underground Railroad Millennium Trail.

This trail is made up of sites that were once stations on the railroad. There are over 75 sites today, and the list of sites is growing quickly. At every stop on the trail, signs guide visitors to safe houses, hiding places, and other landmarks.