“Group tour season is upon us, offering educational experiences for our youth,” says Dion Brown, president of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. “We are prepared and look forward to welcoming student groups as they experience our one-of-a-kind institution this month.”
Have you heard? We're open on Mondays throughout the month of May - including Memorial Day! Click here to learn more.
Because of the rescheduling of opening day, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center will be OPEN to the public this Thursday, March 29.
We will be open for our regular museum hours on Friday, March 30 from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. We apologize for any inconvenience.
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center will be closed to the public this Thursday, March 29. We resume our regular museum hours, Friday, March 30 at 11:00 a.m. We apologize for any inconvenience.
We wish the Reds well on their 2018 season. Go Reds!
When visiting the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center during regular operating hours (11am-5pm) Saturday, March 10, please consider the following street closures to plan your visit accordingly. Due to the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade that begins at 12:00PM, the following streets will close at 9:00 am:
Mehring Way- closed between Gest Street and Elm Street; Central Avenue- closed south of W Pete Rose Way.
Please use the Race Street Entrance for parking when you arrive. The address for this entrance is 182 Race St, Cincinnati, OH 45202. For additional information in regards to parking, please visit http://thebankspublicpartnership.com/parking/.
The Race and Main Street parking garage, (underneath the museum) is now open for visitors during regular museum hours.
The Downtown Cincinnati Inc. website provides a full listing of each parking lot and garage downtown along with rates. Click here to learn more: https://www.downtowncincinnati.com/exploring-downtown/downtown-cincinnati-parking.
More parking options are available as many guests may park at The Central Riverfront Parking Garage at the Banks. The Fountain Square Parking Garage is also nearby, as well as limited street parking and surface lots. Get Directions Getting Around Downtown Cincinnati
When visiting the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center during regular operating hours (11am-5pm) this week, please consider parking at Fountain Place Garage and another uptown garage along the streetcar route if you are unable to find metered parking near the museum. Due to flooding along the banks of the Ohio River, Central Riverfront Parking Garage is only able to provide parking to monthly pass holders until 3pm.
The Downtown Cincinnati Inc. website provides a full listing of each parking lot and garage downtown along with rates. Click here to learn more: https://www.downtowncincinnati.com/exploring-downtown/downtown-cincinnati-parking
When I first began my tenure here at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center I was introduced to then President Dr. Clarence G. Newsome’s video “What Mean These Stones?” In the video he addresses the inspiration and symbolism behind the architecture of the Freedom Center and its location by the Ohio River. While he speaks, visuals of the museum's outside walls as well as images of the river reflect the struggles the escaped endured in their pursuit of freedom.
While going through the Kinsey African American Art & History Collection I come across an artifact the “Gore’e Island Rock”. The significance of this rock is that it came from Gore’e, an island off the coast of Senegal. The island served as a slave port and was the last of Africa slaves would see before making way through the Middle Passage into the unknown of the Americas. Bernard Kinsey mentions that he traced his ancestors to Senegal, which I’d imagine this particular artifact has special meaning to him.
As I think of the “What Mean These Stones?” video and the Gore’e Island Rock piece on display in the exhibit, I see how something as simple as elements of the earth such as stone and water can have such meaningful impacts. Both tell stories of opposing ends. On one end, you have a stone that represents the enslavement of Africans and the beginning of an atrocious journey to a life of servitude. On the other end, the stones of the museum walls and the Ohio River tell a story of hope, resilience and triumph.
Artifacts in the Kinsey Collection such as the Gore’e Island Rock share glimpses of small, yet extremely important stories that the Kinsey’s hope you’ll appreciate. Even a stone can offer a piece of history and challenge your thinking. See the Kinsey African American Art & History Collection as we’re in the final weeks. #MyNURFC
Public Relations & Social Media Coordinator
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
In 2018 we live by “big data.” Each of us not only uses data, but we contribute to its collection every time we log onto the web. The question that exposes the modern dilemma is “How much data are ordinary people willing to turn over to Kroger’s when they go grocery shopping?” And the answer seems to be “As much as they want, as long as I get discount points on my gas purchases.”
Today, data drives almost every decision in business, everything from what aisle do you stock grape jelly, (with other jellies or next to the peanut butter), to what apps get promoted, to how to efficiently design public transit routes in a metropolitan region, to what social service programs get funding. We have convinced ourselves that without data, nothing is defensible.
Data has always been understood as important, though before the digital age of “Big Data” and the ascendency of powerful algorithms, data sets gathered to impact public policy came in smaller packages. That can be seen in several of the documents in the Kinsey African American Art & History Collection.
An 1806 report presented to the House of Commons by the British Inspector General of Imports and Exports records the number of British ships and their capacity to carry enslaved Africans (3.8 million) to the British West Indies between 1796 and 1803. This report was part of the larger public effort to end the British trade in enslaved African peoples, a campaign that achieved success in 1807.
But ending the trans-Atlantic slave trade did not end slavery. A reminder of that grim reality is demonstrated in an 1820 schedule of over 500 slaves living on the estate of William Law on the island of Granada. The inventory of assets available for sale to settle Law’s debts includes a listings of slaves by name, color, country of origin, age and any defining markings. This inventory stands as a stark reminder that people of African descent were considered as nothing more than property to be bred and bartered.
One of the most chilling and discouraging data documents in the entire Kinsey Collection is a broadside issued by the NAACP in the early Twentieth Century. A generation after the Civil War ended, white Americans defaulted on the promises made to the people freed from bondage. Rather than the full rights of citizenship proclaimed in the 14th and 15th amendments to the constitution, mainstream American gave into the mounting pressure from the re-emergent South to subjugate those one enslaved and their descendants.
Legally, this took the form of the imposition of Jim Crow Segregation that won approval from the United States Supreme Court in 1896 in the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling that made “separate but equal” the law of the land.
Culturally, it meant the flowering of a Southern revisionist interpretation of the Civil War as the “Lost Cause” fought for States Rights, not the perpetuation of slavery. It was this movement, in turn, that sparked the dedication of hundreds of Civil War monuments in the early decades of the new century. It is those monuments that have recently become focal points of controversy and violence.
Another result of the abandonment of African American citizens was the unleashing of a wave of lynchings, a calculated campaign of terror designed to control American citizens of color. In the face of this terror, the NAACP began tracking the number of lynchings in 1912. The 1922 “The Shame of America” broadside declaring that 3436 people had been lynched between 1889 and 1922 was to use statistics to shock America into taking action.
The immediate goal was to rally support for the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill then before Congress. The bill did pass the House of Representatives by a two-to-one majority, but failed in the Senate. Despite continued efforts and the introduction of other bills, the United States Congress never passed an anti-lynching law. The catastrophic results of this failure are chillingly documented in the most powerful American history exhibit I have ever personally encountered. I am very proud that the Freedom Center brought “Without Sanctuary” to Cincinnati.
Human beings cling to the idea that assemblage and presentation of facts (data) is the proper way to appeal to reason and advance human good. What is clear, however, whether in 1806, 1922 or 2018, economic, political or social self- interest of the powerful will always dismiss data, unless it is wrapped in a powerful political movement.
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
Each day when I come into work at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, I pass the introduction of the Kinsey African American Art and History Collection, and my favorite part of the exhibit: reproductions of covers of The Crisis.
The Crisis, which still exists today in web form, is the official publication of the NAACP. It was founded in 1910 under the editorship of W.E.B. Du Bois. In its over 100 years of existence, it has chronicled the life, time and struggles of African Americans and other people of color. While fiercely “speaking truth to power” (their tagline), The Crisis has also lifted up the accomplishments of African Americans and opened the way for many African American literary greats to put their work in front of a larger audience. Langston Hughes, for example, was published in the pages of The Crisis early in his career.
So why does this speak to me?
It would be easy for an entity such as The Crisis to focus only on the negative – and rightly so. In speaking truth to power, lifting up the crimes and wrongs done against African Americans and other people of color, the focus could rest solely on the negative without anyone lifting an eyebrow.
But The Crisis never did that. Yes, they told those stories and lifted up the wrongs being done against people of color, but they also held up the hopeful stories – those of education and literature and music and the accomplishments of the same people who were being held down by society at large.
The story could have been one of tragedy, but they also celebrated the hope.
I recognize that mission. I see it every day.
The story of the Freedom Center could have been one of tragedy, but we also celebrate the hope found within the courage, cooperation and perseverance of those who fought for freedom – and those who continue the fight today.
Even in the darkest of nights, a light does shine. Fortunately, The Crisis and the Freedom Center continue to shine that light for all.
Director of Development Operations
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
“Landscape, Autumn, 1865” a small, pastoral painting in the midst of all the elements of the Kinsey Collection could easily be overlooked. But this painting by an artist who made Cincinnati his home for 30 years is a powerful statement about the determination of a free man of color, the grandson of a slave, to contribute to the conversation about the identity of America in the turbulent period of the 1840s, 50s and 60s.
Robert Duncanson was born a free man in New York in 1821. His grandfather, Charles Duncanson (1745—1828) began life enslaved in Virginia, but moved to the Finger Lake District of upstate New York about 1790 after being manumitted. Charles, his son John and four of John’s five sons, pursued the trades of house painters and glaziers, first in New York, and later in Monroe, Michigan.
John’s second youngest son, Robert, followed his grandfather, father and brothers into the trade, learning to mix paints and decorate houses. In 1838 he struck out with a partner to form their own company, but within two years moved to Cincinnati to pursue a profession as a fine arts painter.
Cincinnati in the 1840s was booming, staking its claim as the economic and cultural capital of the American West. The City boasted a sizable free Black population and as the western center of the nascent abolitionist movement, promised potential patrons for a struggling African American artist. But Cincinnati in the 1840s was also swept by waves of anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic and anti-Black violence. In 1841, just after he settled in Cincinnati, angry white mobs filled the streets intent on running the Black community out of Cincinnati
After a decade of perfecting his skills and earning a living painting portraits, Duncanson found his true inspiration, the American landscape. In doing so, he joined the other leading American painters of the period. At a time when Americans were struggling to articulate what made them distinctive, many found answers in the nation’s relationship to the landscape. One group of painters became known as the Hudson River School.
In Cincinnati, local landscape artists, especially Worthington Whettridge and William Louis Sontag, shared their visions and approaches with Duncanson. Together they read and debated the ideas and aesthetic held out by the British critic John Ruskin. For Duncanson, inspiration was close, just beyond the edge of the City. Throughout his career, he focused on scenes in the Ohio River and Little Miami River Valleys. He viewed nature not as a hostile and threatening wilderness, but as pastoral and picturesque. Nature was “a fertile field receptive to man’s use for farming, fishing and raising a family,” according to Joseph Ketner, Duncanson’s biographer (The Emergence of the African American Artist: Robert S. Duncanson, 1821-1872”).
In addition to his work with Whettredge and Sontag, Duncanson also collaborated with James Pressley Ball, Cincinnati’s great African American daguerreotypist, and worked with Ball in his “Great Daguerrian Gallery of the West"
Today, Cincinnatians may think of Duncanson as a local artist best for his wonderful series of murals commissioned by Nicholas Longworth for the Entry Hall of his home, Belmont (Taft Museum of Art) or Blue Hole, Flood Waters, Little Miami Rive, which hangs at the Cincinnati Art Museum. But in the 1850s and 60s, Duncanson’s skill established him not only in this county, but in England and throughout Europe as America’s first internationally renowned African American artist.
This small painting by Duncanson in the Kinsey African American Art & History Collection should be seen in relation to Phyllis Wheatly’s Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral immediately across the aisle and the photo of Frederick Douglass farther down the gallery. As Duncanson’s biographer observes, all three demonstrated an “astonishing ability to rise above racial oppression to create significant early expressions of African American cultural expression.”
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
This website was funded by the U.S. Department of Education Underground Railroad Educational and Cultural (URR) Program