Uncovering the Underground Railroad

Scholars, living historians and enslaved descendants will gather at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens to show that the Underground Railroad was more than a network of secret routes to northern states and Canada that enslaved Africans followed to freedom. “Uncovering the Underground Railroad: Perspectives in Freedom” will be held November 3, 2018 at Magnolia. South Carolina Humanities supported this program with a Major Grant.

Through exhibits, performances and demonstrations, presenters will reveal that the Underground Railroad also included rebellion, maroon communities and people escaping south to Florida and beyond. Conference presenters will share stories and strategies used by the people who ushered others to safety.

Conference speakers will include: Michael Moore, chief executive officer and president of the International African American Museum and a great-grandson of Robert Smalls, who commandeered a Confederate boat during the Civil War; Shawn Halifax, cultural history interpretation coordinator at McLeod Plantation; Thomas Jackson, a reenactor with the Fort Mose Historical Society in St. Augustine, FL; storyteller Dontavious Williams; Sheri Jackson, regional program manager for the National Park Service’s Southeast Region; Diane Miller, NPS national program manager, National Underground Network to Freedom; and singer Ann Caldwell.

The conference sponsors have partnered with Outdoor Afro South Carolina and Sea Kayak Carolina to offer a November 4 kayak tour for experienced kayakers on the Combahee River, the waterway Harriet Tubman, working as a spy for the Union Navy, used to lead enslaved people to freedom during the Civil War. To take the kayak tour, send an e-mail to info@seakayakcarolina.com.

Joe McGill, founder of the Slave Dwelling Project, said this conference is a different way of telling stories of the enslaved: “While the Slave Dwelling Project focuses on places where people were enslaved, Uncovering the Underground Railroad focuses on places where the enslaved were running from.”

To register for the conference, send an e-mail to slavedwellingproject@gmail.com. More information about The Slave Dwelling Project can be found on their website: http://slavedwellingproject.org/.

Conference organizers asked Beaufort artist Sonja Griffin Evans to create an image that depicts travelers on the Underground Railroad. She was inspired to create – We are One – a colorful painting of faceless men, women and children with elongated forms who, as freedom seekers, embarked on a journey of self-emancipation. They understood, she said, “that the only way we as a people would make it to the promise land was banding together. My hope is that we understand and continue their vision of freedom.”

The mission of SC Humanities is to enrich the cultural and intellectual lives of all South Carolinians. Established in 1973, this 501(c) 3 organization is governed by a volunteer 20-member Board of Directors comprised of community leaders from throughout the state.  It presents and/or supports literary initiatives, lectures, exhibits, festivals, publications, oral history projects, videos and other humanities-based experiences that directly or indirectly reach more than 250,000 citizens annually.

Artwork by Sonja Griffin Evans