Contributing Author:
Christopher J. Miller, Sr. Director of Education & Community Engagement, National
Underground Railroad Freedom Center

September is International Underground Railroad Month.

This proclamation began in the State of Maryland in 2019 and now more than 11 States
officially celebrate one of the most significant eras in U.S. history. With the signing of
Ohio HB 340 in June 2022, Ohio became the 12 th  state to designate September
International Underground Railroad Month.

Many history enthusiasts and scholars hope the momentum of the proclamation
spreads to other states so that all our forebears of freedom are remembered.

With an examination of this era, you find that the Ohio River Valley to be instrumental in
the many narratives of freedom seekers. These stories are critical to our understanding
of race relations and civic responsibilities.

Prior to the Civil War, many communities in the Ohio River Valley were a part of an
elaborate system that provided resources and protection for enslaved persons
from Southern states on their journey to freedom. Once someone crossed the Ohio
River, they traveled along unknown terrain of trails to safe houses and hiding places that
would become known as the Underground Railroad.

The Underground Railroad comprised of courageous people who were held to a higher
law that confronted the institution of slavery with acts of civil disobedience by helping
freedom seekers illude enslavers and slave hunters and help them get to Canada.

Along the more than 900-mile stretch of the Ohio River Valley there are many
communities that were a force for freedom, but I would like to focus on two communities
that were significant.

Southern Indiana was a major part of this history. It was originally believed that there
were from Posey to South Bend; from Corydon to Porter; and from Madison to DeKalb
County, with many stops in between.

In further examination the Underground Railroad in Indiana was a web of trails through
the forests, swamps, briars, and dirt roads. The city that is often overlooked in reflecting
on the history of Underground Railroad is New Albany, Indiana.

By 1850, New Albany was the largest city in Indiana with a population of 8,632. Free
Blacks accounted for 502 of that population. Across the river, Louisville was Kentucky’s
largest city with a population of 42,829. A quarter of the 6,687 Black population were
free in Louisville.

Together, Louisville and New Albany, would grow to become a significant region for
Underground Railroad activity. People like Henson McIntosh became a prominent
member of the community and major Underground Railroad conductor. McIntosh was
one of approximately ten Underground Railroad agents in New Albany, who used their
wealth and influence to impact the lives of freedom seekers crossing the Ohio River.

The Carnegie Center for Art & History is an outstanding resource that continues to
preserve New Albany’s role during the Underground Railroad era. Approximately 104
miles east along the Ohio River is another institution that plays a critical role in elevating
the profile of the Underground Railroad on a national scope.

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is located on the banks of the
Ohio River in Cincinnati, Ohio.

By 1850, Cincinnati would grow to be the 6 th largest city in the Union with a sizable
Black population.

The Freedom Center is prominently located in the heart of an historical Black
community called Little Africa. Although the community no longer exists, it’s legacy live
on through the Freedom Center.

As with New Albany, the community that resided along the banks of the river served an
important role in the story of the Underground Railroad. Little Africa was the gateway to
freedom for thousands of freedom seekers escaping slavery.

Although there were Underground Railroad networks throughout the country, Ohio had
the most active network of any other state with approximately 3,000 miles of routes
used by an estimated 40,000 freedom seekers that crossed through Little Africa.

Despite the growth of enslavement leading up to the Civil War, communities, such as
Little Africa and New Albany, reveal the realties regarding race relations as well as a
model for the dignity of human life through their respective efforts to be a kind and
resilient friend for the freedom seeker.

Contributing Author: Christopher J. Miller, Sr. Director of Education & Community
Engagement, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

For More Information:
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center –
Cincinnati Tourism –
Carnegie Center For Art & History –
Southern Indiana Tourism –

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