Wisconsin’s Role In Taking The Underground Railrod To Freedom
As an African American, some of my father’s family, that had not moved North, where sharecroppers in Mississippi. As a young girl, on one visit I saw cotton growing. I had some understanding of slavery and wanted the experience of picking it. The cotton was not at all what I had expected, there where thorns and the task was not an easy or quick process. That day really made me think about the people, some my ancestors, who had to do this all day, everyday. I remember appreciating my life a lot more.
“If you have the opportunity to help; you have the responsibility to help.” — Unknown
One day I was bored and wanted something different to do, through a interenet search to my surprise, I found three Underground Railroad locations right here in Wisconsin. I choose the Milton House Musuem, in Milton WI, as this one because it was the nearest to me.
The Underground Railroad is a term for the covert network of people and places that assisted fugitive slaves as they escaped from slavery in the South. Most widespread during the three decades prior to the Civil War, this activity primarily took place in the regions bordering slave states. Of course, Underground Railroad activity did not literally take place underground or via a railroad, nor was it an official organization with defined structure. It was simply a network of people who attempted to move enslaved individuals escaping from slavery to and from safe places in a orderly and largely secretive manner.
In the deep South, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 made capturing escaped slaves a lucrative business, and there were few hiding places for them. Fugitive slaves were typically on their own until they got to certain points farther north.
The Underground Railroad network included Quakers, free black persons, abolitionists and sympathizers. This network secretly operated safe-houses and communicated with each other in secret to navigate runaway slaves on the path to freedom.
The people involved with the Underground Railroad developed their own terminology to describe participants, safe places and other codes that needed to be kept secret. People who guided slaves from place to place were called “conductors.” Locations where slaves could safely find protection, food or a place to sleep were called “safe houses” or “stations.” Those who hid fugitive slaves in their homes, barns or churches were called “station masters.” Slaves who were in the safekeeping of a conductor or station master were “cargo.” Code words were also used to enable fugitive slaves to find their way North.
“I was a “conductor” for eight years and I can say what most conductors can’t say; I never ran my train of the track and I never lost a passenger.” Harriet Tubman
The Milton House Museum promises “Our guest will be able to walk the very path of history as they travel through the same secret passageway that ushered freedom seekers to shelter on the Underground Railroad.” I am not going to give away the guided tour but they absolutely live up to their promise and the following are but a few highlights. You will see and experience: how and where the escaped slaves arrive and leave, the passage to the hiding place, and where they hid. You will learn about life in Wisconsin in the 1800’s, as well as the who, what when and why the railroad started in Milton, WI.
Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, life’s most persistent and urgent question is “What are you doing for others?”
I left the Milton House Museum grateful that this home had been preserved for generations to know the effort against slavery that took place behind its walls. The work of the Underground Railroad resulted in freedom for many men, women, and children. It also helped undermine the institution of slavery, which was finally ended in the United States during the Civil War. Through this experience I was able to walk in the footsteps of history. I truly realized the perils, fears, and risks undertaken by humans attempting to escape slavery’s chains. This short trip was truely an experience that stimulated my senses, my mind and soul, that I highly recommend all to partake.
“If you can help you have a responsibility to help.” – Unknown
Milton House Museum. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Underground_Railroad_sites