Contact: Cathy D. Nelson
May 15, 2000
An outcome of the White House Millennium Trails Initiative, the designation of a National Underground Railroad Trail comes at a time when many historians and educators agree that the Underground Railroad Movement was the first important Civil Rights Movement in the Country. It took place by Blacks, Whites, and Native American working together, although many fugitive slaves escaped through their own initiative to win freedom for all.
Cathy Nelson, of Columbus, Ohio, and members of Ohio's Friends of Freedom Society, Inc., are the designated leaders for the National Underground Railroad Millennium Trail Initiative. Ms. Nelson, President of the Friends of Freedom Society, will serve as Executive Director of the Trail. The Friends of Freedom Society was awarded this designation due to their impressive record of documenting more than 600 Ohio sites that were part of the Underground Railroad Movement.
Their work honors hundreds of ordinary people who, by resisting slavery, changed the course of this country. "This remarkable American success story will be forever lost unless physical structures and sites connected to Underground Railroad activity are preserved and identified for the American public", said Nelson.
While many fugitive slaves escaped to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean, The National Underground Railroad Trail organizers are concentrating on linking sites among the vast network of routes, trails, and people throughout the midwestern, central and eastern half of the country.
Scattered throughout a geographical region covering 15-20 states, Underground Railroad Sites are located in cities and small villages, on farms and in cemeteries, along waterways and across mountains. The sites, when identified and properly documented provide rich, informative, and educational tourism experiences for visitors, and they help to document an important aspect of American history.
The Trailšs Strategic Planning Committee, comprised of representatives from eight states, will hold several meetings to select sites across the country. The sites will be published on maps and brochures and will be available throughout the country. Also, the Committee is spearheading a national event to publicly announce the Underground Railroad Trail, scheduled for September 22, 2000, a date that commemorates the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, by President Abraham Lincoln. The theme for the event will be "2000 Lights of Freedom," and will be held in Gallipolis, Ohio.
"A wonderful complication to the process of identifying the sites is that new information about underground railroad sites is being documented, almost daily, by researchers all over the United States," added committee member, Don Ross of Springboro, Ohio. The trail, as it is conceived at this point by the group, will not be a true linear experience. "We envision a series of mini-trails, intra - and inter-state, which will link up to tell a comprehensive, national story," Nelson said.
In a message to Ms. Nelson, First Lady Hillary Clinton validated the committee's efforts: "I am delighted that your plans for the Underground Railroad trail so aptly reflect the Millennium Council's theme to "honor the past and imagine the future."
Each of the sixteen Millennium Trail committees have a mandate to complete most details, and host a major event by the end of calendar year 2000.
To further the development of the National Underground Railroad Millennium Trail, the American Express Corporation made a $20,000.00 for the project. Additionally, American Express contributed similar amounts to the other 15 National Millennium Trail groups in the initiative. Corporate donations from other companies will be solicited to finance operation of the trail, including a full-time staff to establish and manage the Trail.
The Underground Railroad Trail Committee is comprised of the following individuals: Cathy Nelson, Columbus, Ohio; Don Ross, Springboro, Ohio; Beverly Gray, Chillicothe, Ohio; Dr. Ancella Bickley, Charleston, West Virginia; Dr. Anne Butler, Frankfort, Kentucky; Leslie Blankenship, Hilliard, Ohio; Lisa Staggenborg, Worthington, Ohio; Marla Jones, Worthington, Ohio; Kevin Cottrell, Niagara Falls, New York; Tara Morrison, Boston, Massachusetts; Henry Burke, Marietta, Ohio; Jon Smith, Indianapolis, Indianapolis; Madalene Norris and Bennie McRae Jr., Trotwood, Ohio. Others include Joan Beaubian, New Bedford, Massachusetts and Glennette Tilley Turner, Glen Ellen, Illinois.
The Friends of Freedom Society, sponsoring body for the UGRR Trail, and its research arm, the Ohio Underground Railroad Association has shown excellence in leadership to others around the country in this venture.
The other fifteen trails accorded the Millennium Trail designation are the Appalachian Trail, the Civil War Discovery Trail, the East Coast Greenway Trail, the Boston Freedom Trail, the Great Western Trail, the Hatfield & McCoy Trail Recreation Area, the Iditarod Historic Trail, the New York City International Express, the Juan Batista De Anza National Trail, the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, the Mississippi River Trail, the North Coutry Trail, and the Unicoi Turpike.