Contact: Christopher Heffron
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July 15, 2004     498 Words

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center Offers Understanding, Education

CINCINNATI—In efforts to heal racial wounds of the past and present, as well as educate people about the history, struggle and adversity of African Americans, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center will open in Cincinnati on August 23, 2004. The $110 million institution, funded by the government, corporate sources and individual donations, sits on the northern banks of the Ohio River—often called the River Jordan by slaves because of its access to freedom.

The evolution of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, from its construction to its purpose and promise, are featured in the August cover story "National Underground Railroad Freedom Center: Looking Back, Moving Forward." Managing Editor Barbara Beckwith charts the development of the center, its impact and its hope of educating people about a terrible chapter in our history. After July 20, the article can be found at:

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is a five-story, three-pavilioned, 158,000-square-foot time machine, transporting the curious back to the era of slavery, when African Americans were property. The center offers an educational perspective with the aid of videos, tours, theater and presentations. It also features a slave pen, found in Mason County, Kentucky, which housed newly purchased male and female slaves.

Those associated with the center, such as its president, Edwin J. Rigaud, promise a thorough, inspirational experience, one that aims to educate people about the struggle for freedom, past and present. "It's really an educational institution that exposes people to history but also gets them to begin to think about how you take those lessons from history and apply them today," Rigaud says. He believes that revisiting history is the key to understanding and growth. "Until we confront our past, we're not going to move forward."

Rigaud knows, however, that reexamining a chapter of history as ugly as slavery isn't easy. He conveys a story he read about a pregnant slave who once upset her master. As punishment, they dug a hole in the ground and laid her belly in the earth to protect the baby from the savage beating she received. The center addresses stories as horrific as that, and offers a "Reflect, Respond, Resolve" area following the tours to give visitors a chance to contemplate what they have just experienced.

Horror, abuse and savagery were not the only characteristics of that era, though. Bravery, survival and inner strength could also be found among the slaves and those who risked their lives to aid in their quest for freedom. The quest continues today. The center, Rigaud says, is a step in understanding the past and healing in the present. "What we're encouraging people to do is to relive those exciting stories and search within themselves for the same kind of courage and cooperation and perseverance to advance the cause of freedom today."


Permission is granted to reprint this release.

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