SOUTH BEND — After retiring from 30 years of academia. larry mcclellan They spent years collecting the stories of the thousands of enslaved African Americans who passed through the Chicagoland area seeking freedom in Canada from the 1830s until the Civil War.
These stories about the area’s connection to the Underground Railroad were turned into a book published in September of this year.I’m heading to Chicago: Freedom seekers and the subway in northeastern Illinois. ”
So McClellan and his colleagues began asking, “Where did they go from Chicago?”
That question prompted him to visit the St. Joseph County Public Library in downtown South Bend on Wednesday night to discuss the city’s inclusion on the proposed Chicago-to-Detroit Freedom Trail.McClellan hopes one day it will be recognized as a Freedom Trail. national historical trail by the park service.
But he expects the effort will take years and involve many volunteer researchers trying to unearth any stories that may be associated with local sites. subway – A network of enslaved African Americans and abolitionists who supported their escape to the North.
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The Freedom Trail begins at two historic African American churches in Chicago and runs parallel to other recorded roads taken by freedom seekers to Detroit. chicago road and Soak Trail. The route would pass through Gary, Michigan City, and LaPorte, then head north to Cassopolis and Kalamazoo, then east to Detroit.
McClellan, who did his doctoral work at the University of Chicago and helped found Governors State University, where he taught for 30 years, estimates that at least 35 sites in northern Indiana have ties to freedom seekers. He said he is doing so. However, documentation is lacking and there is only one official website for him in Bristol. National Subway Network for Freedom.
Several Connections around South Bend The farmhouse of Thomas Bulla, an abolitionist and possible stationmaster, may also be included. The 1849 trial of the Powell family, who escaped from slavery to a farm near Cassopolis, was denied by the courts when their owners in Kentucky tried to find and recapture them. And at Bartlett’s home, its owner raised money to buy food and clothing for those seeking freedom.
Working with African American elder and scholar Virge “Brother Sage” Gillum, McClellan said he hopes to include stories from neighboring Elkhart County and as far east as Fort Wayne. He envisions an additional trail in northern Indiana that he will call the Freedom Trail.
“I think this is a way to dig deeper into our common humanity,” McClellan said. “And if we make a conscious effort to celebrate our diversity, we will celebrate our common humanity. I realized that I could be more conscious,” he said.
founder of Little Calumet River Subway Project, McClellan said his research suggests that between 6,000 and 10,000 enslaved people made their way up the Mississippi River Valley to Illinois in the decade before the Civil War. The other route passed through central Indiana on its way to Michigan. McClellan has discovered more than 60 locations in northeastern Illinois that are connected to people seeking freedom.
According to estimates, between 1820 and 1860, the subway Helped liberate approximately 1,000 African Americans living in the United States each yearr.Especially after the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 required the return of enslaved people in free states to their owners in the South, it was especially important to flee to Canada in order to become free. It has become a reality.
“Part of what really draws me to Underground Railroad stuff is the underlying humanity,” McClellan said. “I hear stories from pro-slavery families who say, ‘We always thought slavery was okay,’ and then they show up on their doorstep and they need directions. is.”
Gillum, who helped create the 20-stop Metro Tour in Cass County, said it’s important to document history that has often been limited to oral narratives.
for national park service To prove the path is historic, petitioners must submit proposals that draw on documentation and historical context.
Akira Karanja, a South Bend nurse who wrote the book “The Gospel Liberated,” said after Wednesday’s event that despite the inhumane conditions, the Metro Rail remains a deep symbol of self-determination for her. He said he was there.
She said this serves as a metaphor for modern-day struggles.
“People now have to be prepared to stop using drugs no matter what,” Karanja said. “I’m not going to commit alcoholic suicide no matter what. I’m going to get an education no matter what. And if you decide to kill me just because I’m black and I’m walking down the street wearing a suit. Even so, I’m going to stand up.
“The subway still exists,” she concluded.
How to participate in the subway project
McClellan encouraged anyone interested to email him. [email protected] or project organizer Tom Shepard [email protected] Learn how to start researching local history here. The Little Calumet River Subway Project also has a Facebook page.