To Freedom: The Underground Railroad’s Tracks Through the Tiers

Published: Nov. 15, 2023 at 6:29 PM EST
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(WBNG) -- The Underground Railroad, a clandestine trail of routes sprawled across the United States in the mid-19th Century, helped slaves, also referred to as “freedom finders.” Operating under secrecy, the trails spanned from the South, where slavery was legal, to the northern states and Canada, where freedom was envisioned.

According to the National Archives, George Washington noted the existence of the network as early as 1786. By 1831, it became known as The Underground Railroad.

In the Southern Tier, Freedom Finders and abolitionists, such as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, worked in the area to lead the freedom finders to a better life. But for many, the Southern Tier was not just another stop on the trail, but a spot to advocate for the freedom and education of African Americans.

Reverand Jermaine Wesley Loguen, who founded many of the Trinity AME Zion churches in New York State, helped to provide a local chapter for African Americans to congregate in peace. He was the son of a kidnapped African American woman, who was raped and forced to have multiple children. Loguen sought out a better life for African Americans.

According to independent researcher Brenda Cave-James, most slaves came through Maryland and Virginia. Broome County History Roger Luther said slaves also came through Philadelphia and moved through Elmira to Montrose and eventually to Binghamton.

Yet, due to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and previous laws regarding slaves, the tunnels of The Underground Railroad had to be a secret. This, marred with the primitive lack of technology, led to many of these passageways being spoken only by word of mouth.

Loguen was not the only abolitionist present in the Southern Tier. Dr. Stephen Hand, who formerly lived on Collier Street in Binghamton, also aided as a conductor on the Underground Railroad.

With history in the Southern Tier, one may question where all the museums and nationally recognized freedom markers are. Dr. Anne Bailey. who works at the Harriet Tubman Center for Freedom and Equity at Binghamton University, said recognition is a difficult process.

“It’s a long process and I know there’s work that’s been done over the years to identify,” said Dr. Bailey. “Sometimes in some cases, the obvious ones are the places where there’s a place in the attic or there’s a place underground.”

Dr. Bailey said you could look at newspapers at the time and see where people had given testimony about the railroad and safe houses for further insight.

Dr. Bailey has recently taken on the role of creating the recognized Freedom Trail in Binghamton to commemorate the railroad’s local history. She said it’s an opportunity to repair that difficult history, going as far as to call the modern era the “age of repair.”

Cave-James noted that The Underground Railroad and those who operated it and traveled through it must not be forgotten.

“It’s like erasing a whole group of people, a whole culture, a whole history,” she said. “[Like] erasing the country’s history.”