Living up to its nickname of “America in Miniature,” Maryland is home to a number of destinations that are ideal for commemorating February, Black History Month. And with this year marking the 25th anniversary of the Network to Freedom, a National Park Service program connecting Underground Railroad sites, there’s no better time to explore the state’s offerings, according to Connie Spindler of Visit Maryland.
From the mountains in Western Maryland to the Eastern Shore (and everything in between), the Old Line State, in the heart of the Mid-Atlantic, is accessible and full of opportunities for fun and food, shopping, and, yes, celebrating Black history. Spindler made several suggestions for learning firsthand about the network of clandestine 19th-century routes to freedom.
All aboard! Your first stop might well be the B&O Railroad Museum at Mount Clare Station in Baltimore City. Here, a brand-new permanent exhibit, The Underground Railroad: Freedom Seekers on the B&O Railroad, examines how people escaping slavery sometimes made use of the “real” railroad. Not far away is Historic President Street Station, where an exhibit tells the story of one slave who packed himself up and shipped himself to freedom. Note that this site is closed for the season, reopening in March.
To the west, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park interprets multiple stories of self-emancipation involving the canal, with specific sites including Ferry Hill Plantation and the Shawnee Oldfield Village, a forested area where tribe members gave assistance to freedom seekers.
Travel to Montgomery County’s North Bethesda and visit the Josiah Henson Museum and Park. Points of interest here include the historic Riley/Bolten House and an attached log kitchen, accompanied by a compelling interpretive film. Archaeological excavations are ongoing.
Spindler pointed out that it was Rev. Henson’s 1849 autobiography that inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe to write Uncle Tom’s Cabin. She suggested that those spending time here should consider extending their stay to take advantage of this site’s proximity to prime shopping, as well as fine dining and accommodations.
While on the Eastern Shore, Spindler recommended a visit to the Dorchester County Courthouse in Cambridge, where a newly installed and recently dedicated statue honors Harriet Tubman, a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad. Beacon of Hope stands on the site where Tubman’s niece (and her niece’s two children) escaped the auction block. The courthouse is one of more than 30 sites featured along the Harriet Tubman Byway, a self-guided driving trip that encompasses a 125-mile route.
Finally, visit the campus of St. Mary’s College to learn more about those once enslaved in St. Mary’s City. An abstract representation of a slave cabin provides an immersive art experience at the Commemorative to Enslaved Peoples of Southern Maryland. Visit in the daytime and see yourself in its mirrored “slats;” return when the sun goes down to view words of poetry projected outward. Spindler concluded, “It is so powerful.”
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