National Underground Railroad Freedom Center Offers Understanding,
CINCINNATIIn 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 Riveroften 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: AmericanCatholic.org.
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."
granted to reprint this release.