Monday, May 13, 2013

Learn more about the Underground Railroad tonight

The Underground Railroad in Iowa will be the topic of a public meeting at First Presbyterian Church in Chariton this evening, sponsored by the Lucas County Genealogical Society and co-sponsored by the Lucas County Historical Society. Doors will open at 6 p.m. and the program will begin at approximately 6:30 p.m. Admission is free.

Guest speaker will be Doug Jones, archaeologist and project manager of the Iowa Freedom Trail Grant Project, which will conclude during September when funding expires after more than a decade of work.

Most are aware I think that the Underground Railroad was a network of people and routes that from roughly 1839 until 1861 helped slaves who had escaped bondage in the South reach relative safety in the North or assured safety in Canada.

An extensive network developed in the four tiers of southern Iowa counties, adjacent to the slave state of Missouri. Activity began in southeast Iowa during territorial days, then spread west --- accelerating in southwest Iowa after passage of the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act.

The Iowa Freedom Trail project commenced with a legislative mandate a decade ago and will end formally this fall, although research and development is expected to continue. One result of the project will be a new book, Necessary Courage, authored by retired project manager Lowell J. Soike and published by University of Iowa Press.

If you look carefully at the map above (right click and open in a new window to see more clearly), developed by John Zeller, an historian for the project and the State Historical Society of Iowa, you'll note that Lucas and Wayne counties are the only "blank" counties in Iowa's southern three tiers. I'm sure we'll hear more about that as well as additional research that may provide an explanation --- or clues about actual Underground Railroad activity here.

The meeting also will give guests an opportunity to explore First Prebyterian, recently refreshed with a new roof and wiring and one of Chariton's architectural treasures. If the sun is shining --- as it is supposed to be today --- the sanctuary with its walls of stained glass and stained glass dome overhead should be one of the most beautiful places to be in town this evening, too. The church is located a block east of the northeast corner of the square. So please join us!

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