Voices - Connections


Monday, December 10, 2018 - 10:50am

Human Rights Day and the Continued Struggle for Inclusive Freedom

Every year on December 10 we recognize Human Rights Day—an UN holiday created to celebrate the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Today is the 70th anniversary of this historic doctrine.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the most translated document in the world (available in 500 languages) and proclaims “the inalienable rights which everyone is inherently entitled to as a human being –regardless of race, color, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

This year, the slogan for Human Rights Day is #StandUp4HumanRights and encourages simple philosophies, such as the idea that we all deserve human rights, that by practicing equality and justice we prevent violence, and stand up our rights and the rights of others. So, what does Human Rights Day mean in the world of museums? How can we encourage those to #StandUp4HumanRights in cultural institutions?

Here at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (NURFC), we encourage those to fight for inclusive freedom—an idea emphasized in the words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Our mission allows us to discuss the difficult histories of America’s past while also encouraging inclusive freedom for her future.

At NURFC, we weave the idea of standing up for human rights into everything we do—from programming, to exhibitions, community led conversations, and guided school tours. Because of our mission, we can talk about our history and the idea of human rights. We are also a certified Museum of Conscience.

A Site of Conscience, or a Museum of Conscience, is a classification given to historic sites, museums, and memory initiatives by the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience—a global network of institutions that connect past struggles to today’s movements for human rights. Their slogan—turning memory into action—is a patch we proudly wear here at NURFC.

By being a part of this international network, NURFC can encourage those to continue the theme of Human Rights Day and encourage visitors to #StandUp4HumanRights.

Katie Bramell, Manager of Exhibitions & Collections
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

Katie’s passion is sharing the untold stories of history, and she loves to think of new, creative ways to engage museum visitors. She is a graduate of Northern Kentucky University (Masters of Public History) and the University of Central Missouri (Bachelors of History). Her primary fields of study include the Underground Railroad, human rights, and early 20th century American History.

Monday, December 3, 2018 - 5:04pm

Quality Special Education is a Civil Right

On the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, and we’re thinking about this year’s theme of inclusion and equality, especially in terms of special education as a civil right. Meet #MyNURFC Events Manager Jessica Roncker and her older brother Neill.

Neill battled epilepsy and brain damage from meningitis as a boy, but graduated from Pleasant Ridge Elementary School and Woodward High School despite his disability. Jessica calls Neill “one of the lucky ones” because when their parents were unhappy with his educational options, their mother, Mary Ann Roncker, decided to take the school district to court.

With the help of the Ohio Legal Rights Service, Mary Ann battled the Cincinnati Board of Education from 1979 to 1983 for Neill’s right to attend special education classes in a regular school environment. Roncker v. Walter cited both the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment and the landmark Brown v. Board of Education of 1954 and was finally won in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals when the US Supreme Court declined to hear it.

The win established the basis for the Roncker portability test which questions whether a segregated environment is better than a mainstreaming program and ensures that services be provided in a non-segregated setting if possible. It set a standard for the principle of Least Restrictive Environment, the idea that children in special education should spend as much appropriate time as possible with non-disabled peers.

"On this International Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to work together for a better world that is inclusive, equitable and sustainable for everyone, where the rights of people with disabilities are fully realized." — António Guterres, UN Secretary-General

You can learn more about the International Day of Persons with Disabilities here.


Sunday, December 2, 2018 - 8:00am

Remembering John Brown

“I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.” –John Brown, Dec. 2, 1859

On this day 159 years ago, John Brown was executed by way of hanging in Charles Town, Virginia (present day West Virginia). His crime? The failed raid of a military armory located in Harpers Ferry, VA.

Brown was born in Torrington, Connecticut in 1800 to a family of abolitionists. Like his family, Brown adopted what many would later refer to as “extreme anti-slavery” views. For the 1830s, these views were more radical than many mainstream white abolitionists were comfortable with. Brown believed that slavery was the United States “greatest sin,” and dedicated his life to eradicate it. He moved to abolitionists communities like Springfield, Massachusetts where he would frequently listen to lectures by Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass—who he would later count as one of his closest friends—and worked with Underground Railroad abolitionists like Harriet Tubman

At age 55, Brown moved to the Kansas Territory with his adults sons to aide support for the anti-slavery forces engaged in a violent border war with pro-slavery forces. It was in Kansas that John Brown would earn his militant reputation that would dominate literature about him for years following. In May 1856, Brown and his sons were accused of killing five men in the pro-slavery settlement of Pottawatomie, KS after anti-slavery settlers were attacked in Lawrence, KS. The incident would later be referred to as the “Pottawatomie Massacre.” 

A year after Kansas, Brown began to make plans for his next big mission—an armed insurrection at the military armory located in Harpers Ferry. Brown believed that with this attack, weapons from the armory could be seized, given to enslaved African Americans, and used to spark an anti-slavery rebellion. A rebellion that Brown believed would end slavery in the United States once and for all. This was 1857, the same year the Supreme Court of the United States delivered a devastating blow to the anti-slavery cause with the Dred Scott decision. Brown and his many supporters believed after the Dred Scott decision there would be no peaceful end to slavery.

On October 16, 1859 Brown led 18 men—13 white and 5 formerly enslaved African Americans—into Harpers Ferry, VA. They captured federal buildings, cut telegraph wires, killed four people and wounded nine. Brown believed that once inside the armory that locally enslaved people would come to their aid to help hold the ferry, but that never happened. After a 36-hour stand-off, eight of Brown’s men were either killed or captured while five, including one of Brown’s son, escaped. Brown was wounded in the attack and taken to jail in Charles Town, present day West Virginia. 

On Nov. 2, 1859 Brown was found guilty of all charges brought against him, including conspiracy, inciting servile insurrection and treason against the state. He was sentenced to death by way of hanging. On the date of his execution, more than 1,000 troops arrived to protect the execution for fear there would be an attempt to rescue Brown. Unable to make a final statement before his execution, Brown wrote a note in his cell before arriving to the gallows: “I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.” 

History has an interesting way of remember John Brown. Often, he is depicted appearing wild and crazed, with a look of insanity in his eyes. But was John Brown wrong? He said himself many of times, slavery would not end peacefully; it would have to “be purged away with blood.” The Civil War, which erupted only 16 months after Brown’s execution, proved the validity of Brown’s claim.

Personally, I believe Frederick Douglass said it best in a speech delivered in memory of his friend on the 14 year anniversary of Harpers Ferry in May 1881:

“If John Brown did not end the war that ended slavery, he did at least begin the war that ended slavery. If we look over the dates, places and men for which this honor is claimed, we shall find that not Carolina, but Virginia, not Fort Sumter, but Harpers Ferry, and the arsenal, not Col. Anderson, but John Brown, began the war that ended American slavery and made this a free Republic. Until this blow was struck, the prospect for freedom was dim, shadowy and uncertain. The irrepressible conflict was one of words, votes and compromises.”

So on this date, 159 years later, let’s remember the legacy of John Brown—the man who started the war that would end slavery. 

Katie Bramell, Manager of Exhibitions & Collections
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

Katie has a passion for sharing the untold stories of history and loves to think of new, creative ways to engage museum visitors. She graduated from Northern Kentucky University with a Master's degree in Public History and the University of Central Missouri with a Bachelor's degree in History. Her primary field of study includes Underground Railroad history, human rights history, and early 20th century American History.

Saturday, December 1, 2018 - 10:00am

You Can’t Get AIDS From A Hug: Why We Honor World AIDS Day

One of my earliest memories is walking through the hallways of my elementary school seeing posters with sayings like “you can’t get AIDS from a hug and a kiss.” This would have been around the time President Ronald Reagan finally started mentioning the word “AIDS” during speeches and press conferences. By that time over 5,000 residents of the United States – not to mention countless more around the globe -- had passed away from the disease. Many of these individuals were members of populations who faced widespread discrimination. Some of these groups included gay men, transgender women, Haitian immigrants and refugees, sex workers, and people addicted to IV drugs. My uncle Myron who left behind a long-term partner, Pedro, was one of these early deaths.

HIV/AIDS and Marginalization

The vulnerability of oppressed populations to HIV/AIDS infection is a major reason why the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (NURFC) is honoring World AIDS Day. While it is well known – or should be – that straight, white men of means can and do get infected, African Americans, LGBT folks, and lower income communities are still at higher risk. According to the CDC, in 2016 4,560 African American women received an HIV diagnosis, compared with 1,450 white women and 1,168 Hispanic/Latina women [1]. While this rate of infection is lower than in past years, it is still unacceptably high especially when taking into account the fact that African Americans comprise 12% of the US population.

Meanwhile, while rates of HIV infection among gay men has stabilized, as of 2014 this population comprised 56% of new HIV cases [2]. Young African American gay men – a minority within a minority -- account for more new cases of HIV infection in the United States than any other population [3]. The reasons for this are much the same as back in the 80s when those PSA posters went up around my school; fewer official support networks, more obstacles to public health interventions, and less access to accurate information.

HIV, Trafficking, and Human Rights

HIV/AIDS is also, sadly, highly relevant to NURFC’s involvement in the fight against modern-day enslavement. Sex trafficking is not only a humanitarian crisis, but also a public health one. Survivors of this atrocity are at substantial risk of HIV infection. This is due in part to the factors described above, not least of which are a lack of support networks and access to education. However, there is an even more sinister force at play. According to a 2013 study conducted by Harvard’s School of Public Health, women who are forced into sex work typically experience sexual violence. They are also unable to insist that their clients use safer sex techniques. This increases the likelihood of HIV infection 11-fold, as opposed to women who report entering the sex industry voluntarily [4]. HIV positive trafficking victims have little hope of obtaining treatment and may even be abandoned by their traffickers once they become too sick to service clients. It is also important to remember that women and girls trapped in other forms of modern day enslavement, such as forced labor and domestic servitude, are vulnerable to sexual assault and have few avenues for recourse.

Curbing sex trafficking is a major step towards reducing rates of HIV infection. Framing the fight against modern day enslavement in this way could be a major step towards the elimination of both crises. At the same time, it is important not to demonize people living with HIV/AIDS, particularly if they are trafficking victims. Doing so is a form of re-victimization. Fortunately many organizations, such as the joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, have started tackling issues such as this from a human rights standpoint.

Fight HIV/AIDS, not People Living with HIV/AIDS

It has been over 20 years since I saw those HIV/AIDS PSAs on the walls of my elementary school. Since then I’ve grown up, graduated high school and college, and come out as a gay man. I’ve made many friends, some of them people living with HIV/AIDS, from all walks of life. In some cases, I’ve been with them in the counselor’s office as they receive life changing news.

At the same time, I’ve witnessed HIV/AIDS go from death sentence to manageable medical condition. I’ve seen the stigma of HIV infection lessen (at least here in the US). I’ve also seen hopeful signs that there may be a cure, or at least a vaccine, in my lifetime. HIV medications have also become less hard on a person’s system.

Regardless: people living with HIV/AIDS, be they a classmate or a trafficking victim – or both – are not the enemy. They need love, support, and the occasional hug just as much as anyone. After all, you really can’t get AIDS from a hug.

Jonathan Turbin, Modern-Day Slavery Coordinator
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

As Coordinator of Initiatives against Modern Day Slavery, Jonathan oversees the site End Slavery Now and works to build relationships among anti-trafficking organizations in and around Cincinnati. He is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Oregon.


[1] https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/group/racialethnic/africanamericans/index.html (accessed 11/27/2018)
[2] https://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/docs/factsheets/cdc-msm-508.pdf (accessed 11/27/2018)
[3] Ibid (accessed 11/27/2018)
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3626049/ (accessed 11/28/2018)

Saturday, December 1, 2018 - 7:25am

#381Days: Honoring Rosa Parks and 65 Years Since the Montgomery Bus Boycott

December 1, 2018 is the 63rd anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In Ohio, it’s also Rosa Parks Day, the anniversary date of her famous arrest on December 1, 1955. We will honor the great Rosa Parks during the month of December through a social media campaign called #381Days.

The deeper story of Rosa Parks’ life was the inspiration for this campaign. The fact that she was such an educated woman that stood up for what she believed in, despite the fact that her whole world changed is pretty remarkable. Many know that when Rosa refused to move from her seat in 1955, she became an iconic face in the civil rights movement. What many don't remember is that she was intensely active in that movement as well.

Parks had a previous run in with bus driver James Blake about a year prior to the day of her arrest. Ever since then, she worked with the NAACP to fight for the rights of the African American community. Following her arrest, the Women’s Political Council called for a 1-day boycott in which they expected 60% of the black community to participate. To everyone's surprise, 90% of the black community became involved.

Due to the large percentage of the community participation, the black leaders of Montgomery called a meeting to form the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), electing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as President. At this meeting they issued a formal list of demands in which the city later refused to comply. Their initial demands did not involve changing the segregation laws, but inserting more courtesy within the existing laws. For example, hiring black bus drivers and implementing a "first come, first serve" policy where whites would fill the front of the bus and blacks would fill the back.

Responding to the denial of the demands and to keep the boycott going, the MIA created a carpool system to support the community protesters. This boycott lasted for 381 days while leaders such as E.D. Nixon and Martin Luther King Jr. suffered turmoil like death threats to themselves and their families, as well as house bombings.

We remember these strong leaders that have encouraged us and put their life on the line to stand up for what they believed in, and more importantly what is right. After the long days of the bus boycott, the buses were officially desegregated on December 21st, 1956. But the fight always continues.

Blog 1 of a 3-part series. Check back next week for Part 2.

Merrisha Dickerson, Marketing Intern
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

Merrisha is a student at Northern Kentucky University. Throughout Merrisha’s internship she has worked to create content for social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for the Freedom Center. She has enjoyed learning how to communicate with different types of people in different departments around the museum and learning something new each day.

Monday, November 26, 2018 - 2:09pm

Meet Jim Brock: #MyNURFC Docent and Veteran

Meet one of our fantastic docents: Jim Brock, a long time member of the #MyNURFC family and veteran of the US Marine Corps.

James Brock

Photograph: Jim Brock (right) and two good friends from his company, Clayton Barnett of St. Louis (left) and Robert Carter of San Francisco (center).

He shared these photographs with us and the story of how he got connected to the museum:

"After serving in the United States Marine Corps and ending a successful career in the US Postal Service, I had a desire to serve my community and contribute to the development of our youth. The agonizing question was where and how? Hadn’t I done enough when I enlisted and put myself in harm’s way for the betterment of our country?

Out of curiosity, I went to an orientation describing the need for an education facility where the entire community could gather under the same roof to discuss our differences and explore opportunities to alleviate those differences. The orientation was presented by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, and from that point going forward, I never left. As a Volunteer Exhibit Interpreter, I now know there are new and multiple solutions to old cultural problems, and I am helping to make the difference."

We're grateful for Jim's service to both our country and our institution. We continue to honor all #veterans this month with free general admission with military ID through November 30. We hope you'll share this with the veterans in your life and come see us this week!


Photograph: Jim Brock in his dress blues

Tuesday, November 20, 2018 - 4:29pm

A Salute to Veteran John Pepper

John Pepper, retired Procter & Gamble Chairman and CEO, is an Honorary Co-Chair on the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center Board of Directors and a #veteran of the US Navy. He shared this photo of himself as a young servicemen and reflects on how his military service shaped his life today:

"My 3 years of active duty in the Navy serving on board a destroyer (U.S.S. Blandy, DD-943) and outfitting PT boats for Vietnam in the Philadelphia Shipyard left an indelible imprint on my life. It put me, a shy youngster, in a position of leadership at the age of only 22. It introduced me to role models whose characters influenced my own to this very day. It taught me the values of teamwork, a commitment to be the best, and recognizing there was much I could and should learn from others. I would never have become the person I became if it were not for my service in the Navy."

We continue to honor veterans this month with free general admission to the museum with military ID, now through November 30. Learn more here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018 - 2:47pm

Oktoberfest Traffic Notices & Street Closures

Planning to visit this weekend? Please note that Oktoberfest Zinzinnati is held on 2nd and 3rd Streets, between Elm and Walnut. The museum is open and we look forward to welcoming you and festival goers to The Banks community for a weekend of activities for the whole family. Oktoberfest Zinzinnati road closures and traffic information can be found here: https://www.oktoberfestzinzinnati.com/getting_here/hours-and-directions

This Saturday, September 22, we are opening out doors free of charge to all  Museum Day ticket holders on Saturday, September 22, 2018, as part of Smithsonian magazine’s 14th annual Museum Day, a national celebration of boundless curiosity in which participating museums emulate the free admission policy at the Smithsonian Institution’s Washington DC-based museums.

Museum Day tickets are available for download at Smithsonian.com/MuseumDay. Visitors who present a Museum Day ticket will gain free entrance for two at participating venues on September 22, 2018. One ticket is permitted per email address. A list of participating museums can be found at Smithsonian.com/MuseumDay/Search.

Emancipation Day: Our Future Is To Be Forever Free!

This Saturday we also join the statewide commemoration of President Abraham Lincoln’s preliminary emancipation proclamation to abolish slavery in 1862. Visitors can experience dramatic readings of the African American folktale The People Could Fly, participate in a conversation with the museum’s senior historian Carl Westmoreland, and join the screening of Civil War: The Untold Story.

12:00 p.m. Dramatic reading of The People Could Fly

1:00 p.m. A Conversation with Senior Historian, Carl Westmoreland

3:00 p.m. Civil War: The Untold Story film screening

Visitors to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center can also purchase tickets for MANDELA: THE JOURNEY TO UBUNTU and The Rosa Parks Experience. MANDELA: THE JOURNEY TO UBUNTU commemorates the life and legacy of former South African President Nelson Mandela through photographs by Matthew Willman as he revisited many of the locations that played an important role in South Africa’s route to racial equality and Mandela’s personal fight for freedom. Tickets are $10 per person. The Rosa Parks Experience is a virtual experience commemorating Parks’ historic demonstration, just four days before the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955. Tickets are $5 per person.

See you this weekend!

Friday, July 27, 2018 - 11:49am

Cincinnati Music Festival Route Options and Street Closures

Please be sure to plan your visit to the museum accordingly.
Refer to the following instructions for traffic information regarding this weekend’s programming and events throughout Downtown Cincinnati according to the City of Cincinnati Department of Transportation and Engineering, Traffic Engineering Division.

Cincinnati Music Festival
July 26-28, 2018

Festival 513
July 27-28, 2018

Cincy Soul
July 27-29, 2018

Starting in 1962 as an all-jazz concert, this festival has evolved and grown into a multi-day festival featuring amazing music from the hottest stars in R&B, jazz, soul and hip-hop. The Cincinnati Music Festival is held annually at Paul Brown Stadium.  This year concerts will once again take place on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, July 26-28.  To better handle the crowds around PBS, the Cincinnati Police Department will be implementing their Bengals traffic plan, except they will not be using the Riverfront Transit Center, which remains closed due to damages sustained during the spring floods.  Motorists are reminded of the following restrictions:

Before the concert (4-7PM):
Elm Street- closed south of Second Street
Race Street- closed south of Second Street (open to garage only)
Rosa Parks Street- closed to through traffic south of Second Street
Marion Spencer Way- closed to through traffic south of Second Street
Freedom Way- closed

After the concert (11PM-1AM)
Central Avenue- southbound closed south of Seventh Street
Fourth Street- closed between Elm Street and Central Avenue
Third Street- eastbound closed between the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge and Third Street
W Pete Rose Way- eastbound closed between Gest Street and Central Avenue
Elm Street- closed south of Second Street
Race Street- closed south of Second Street (open to garage only)
Rosa Parks Street- closed to through traffic south of Second Street
Marion Spencer Way- closed to through traffic south of Second Street
Freedom Way- closed

For more information about this event, please visit:

Also taking place during the Cincinnati Music Festival are Festival 513 and Cincy Soul.

Festival 513 is an exciting event that provides a centralized merchandise and food vending area for guests to the city and features nearly 100 merchandise and food booths.  Festival 513 is located right beside Paul Brown Stadium but in order to accommodate this event, the following streets will close on Thursday, July 26 at 10AM and remain closed until Sunday, July 29 at 7PM:

- Freedom Way- closed between Elm Street and Rosa Parks Street
- Race Street- closed south of Second Street (Access will be maintained to the Radius parking garage)

For more information about this event, please visit:

Cincy Soul is a culinary food festival located on Fifth Street at Fountain Square.  In order to hold this event, the following street will close on Friday, July 27 at 6PM and remain closed until Sunday, July 29 at Midnight:

- Fifth Street- closed between Vine Street and Walnut Street

For more information about this event, please visit:

Monday, July 9, 2018 - 4:41pm

Confederate Currency and Confederate Memory in its Final Week

You only have until Sunday, July 15 to see the powerful exhibits Confederate Currency: The Color of Money presented by BB&T, and Confederate Memory: Symbolism, Controversy and Legacy.

Since April, the work of artist John W. Jones has been on display here at the museum showcasing images of slavery depicted on Confederate bank notes in Confederate Currency: The Color of Money presented by BB&T. These paintings gave the statement of how powerful the enslaved were to the economy of the South. As Jones says, “history informs art, which in turn artfully reveals more history”.

Confederate Memory: Symbolism, Controversy and Legacy offers insight on how the ideals of the Confederacy are still prevalent in our country today as it addresses the revisionist history and the national Confederate symbols debate.    
See these exhibits here at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center while you still can. #MyNURFC #RevealStories

Will Jones
PR & Social Media Coordinator
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center