On the third Saturday of every month (April through October), you have a chance to learn about the significant role Springfield and certain of its residents played in helping move Africans from slavery to freedom. Thanks to the Pan African Historical Museum (PAHMUSA), the Underground Railroad tour is free and open to the public.
This fascinating guided tour begins at the museum located in Tower Square on the second floor. Here you’ll discover letters, photographs, maps and artifacts that help set the stage for what you’re about to experience. LuJuana Hood, PAHMUSA Executive Director, and Tina Taylor, Docent, serve as tour guides on the two-hour walk along several city blocks.
At key moments along the way, costumed actors help advance the story of the difficult, dangerous journey thousands of slaves took in search of freedom. They provide helpful insight into how the Underground Railroad managed to operate in plain view. Naturally, coded communication was important. You’ll learn how couriers described incoming passengers and their ultimate destinations.
The stretch of downtown from Main between Howard and Union Streets to the old Railroad Bridge at Gridiron Street is filled with points of importance to the Underground Railroad. Though only a few of mid-1800s buildings are still standing, locations relevant to this rich chapter in Springfield’s history are documented on a map created by Springfield Technical Community College. For example, the office of Dr. George White, which was in part, a changing station for runaway Africans, is now the site of the MassMutual Center.
Old First Church, though it did not serve as one of the secret hiding places, contributed mightily to the Underground Railroad through its minister, Reverend Osgood. He served as a conductor in the freedom movement.
Tour guides tell the story of a slave owner who came to Springfield to reclaim his property, a woman named Jenny Cumfrey Williams. Rev. Howard, also of Old First Church, negotiated a price for the woman and raised the $100 to buy her freedom. The receipt with all of the names of those who contributed is on display at the museum.
On the most recent tour, Ms. Hood acknowledged a special guest: 12-year old Alexander. It seems he had previously taken the tour and enjoyed it so much that he decided he wanted to take the tour as part of his birthday celebration. Alexander, sister Abbie, and best friend Logan and both families all participated in the tour. Naturally, there were surprises along the way for Alexander on his special day.
Complementing the work of PAHMUSA, this Fall, the Republican Heritage Series will be releasing "The Struggle for Freedom," a new book that addresses the history of African-Americans in western Massachusetts. "The Struggle for Freedom" is available for purchase now from pedimentbooks.com.
In the photo above, Tina Taylor (left), Docent for the Underground Railroad Gallery at PAHMUSA, stands with Jeane Scales (right), portraying Sophia Giles, the mother of Thomas Thomas, a slave from Oxford, Maryland.
For more information about the Springfield Underground Railroad Tour, please call 413.733.1823.
Photo credit: Chris Marion | chrismarion.com