Maryland’s rich history more than compensates for its land mass compared to other states in the union, dating its founding to 1634 with the arrival of colonists from England at St. Clement’s Island.
From the French and Indian War and the War of 1812 to the Civil War, the Free State has seen many events unfold, both minor and major, that contributed to the formation and preservation of our nation.
The recognition in recent years of Cumberland as a stop on the Underground Railroad has brought a new level of interest from people who want to know more about that highly secretive and life-changing enterprise of the past.
The most well-known “conductor” leading Black slaves from the South to freedom in the North prior to the War Between the States was Harriet Tubman, herself born into slavery in Dorchester County.
We found out last week that the Maryland Department of Commerce’s Office of Tourism has been awarded a grant to study and document additional Underground Railroad sites. The $20,000 will come from the 400 Years of African-American History Commission.
Four researchers will work with the Office of Tourism, the Legacy of Slavery in Maryland program at the Maryland State Archives and other public and private groups. At the end of the fellowships, recipients will share their findings in programs that will be presented to the public free of charge.
Each will conduct Underground Railroad research and complete applications for Maryland sites to the National Park Service Network to Freedom program, created in 1998 with “a mission to honor, preserve and promote the history of the resistance to enslavement through successful escapes that continue to inspire people worldwide today.” The program highlights places with a verified connection to the Underground Railroad.
Since his inauguration, President Donald Trump has repeatedly been accused of wrongdoing, and his detractors can’t seem to accept that he has done anything right, but it was he who signed a law on Jan. 8, 2018, officially forming the 400 Years of African-American History Commission. That assembly has been authorized to plan, develop and implement programs and activities to recognize wcontributions of African-Americans since 1619. That was the year a ship arrived in the English colony of Virginia, carrying more than 20 enslaved Africans.
The commission also works to remind us of the impact that slavery and laws that enforced racial discrimination had on our country.
As for the Underground Railroad, it would be fitting for the reseachers to dress like Sherlock Holmes, for they will be doing real detective work. Secrecy was at the heart of the escape missions. Few words were put on paper.
They were brave souls, one and all, who had any role in the liberations, many of which failed. Cruel and zealous slave patrols tracked and captured those bound for freedom and returned them to their owners, who beat them and sometimes killed them. Things didn’t end well for whites involved in the covert operation, the Black Lives Matter movement of its time.
There are tunnels under Emmanuel Episcopal Church that date to the time of Fort Cumberland. The fairly recent research identifying the subterranean walkways as footpaths to freedom makes them even more important.
The Underground Railroad was a triumph of the human spirit, a new life for men and women of color outside of what author Ta-Nehisi Coates calls “the coffin” of slavery in his novel, “The Water Dancer.”
The more we can learn about this freedom train and its stations the better.