To authentically engage in the history of self-liberators and freedom seekers who risked their lives to escape slavery, groups can embark on a journey of cultural awareness and understanding at dozens of Underground Railroad sites across Maryland. More African Americans successfully escaped slavery in Maryland than in any other state. Today, museums, national park sites, nonprofit organizations, and local historians across Maryland work to preserve, educate, and shed light on key moments in history and lesser-known stories from the past.
“Maryland has a very unique story, first and foremost, because we were on the geographical cusp of freedom,” says Anthony Cohen, president of The Menare Foundation, a Maryland-based nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and education of Underground Railroad history. “We’re located at the northern boundary, or the Mason-Dixon Line, which was the delineation between slavery and freedom. Our location was an important launching point as well as a pass-through location along the underground system.”
Groups can visit dozens of local museums, historical waypoints, heritage sites, and National Park Service National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom sites across Maryland. These sites present their own unique take on storytelling, awareness-building, and immersion in Underground Railroad history and teachings.
On the Eastern Shore of Maryland, the birthplace of prominent Underground Railroad leaders like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, groups can visit the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park and Visitor Center. The center is one of the most prominent National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom sites and a key stop or starting place for groups traveling in the region.
Various Underground Railroad escape sites, including the Riversdale House Museum in central Maryland and the Josiah Henson Museum and Park in North Bethesda, emphasize the experiences of what life was like in 19th-century America for the families and their free and enslaved workforces, and stories behind the sites’ underground efforts for freedom.
Other popular experiences include visiting a permanent exhibit at the B&O Railroad Museum, which details the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad’s role in the Underground Railroad, and taking the Hagerstown Underground Railroad Historical Sites self-driving tour. There’s also Button Farm in Germantown, Maryland’s only living history museum and farm depicting 19th-century plantation life.
“Stories about community emerge in all of these places, and I think that creates a more intimate experience for visitors to Underground Railroad destinations in Maryland,” Cohen says. “[Visitors] will learn more about the human aspect, instead of, you know, the escape and then Canada. What happened between those two points? That’s what we’re trying to tell. Those are the stories and learnings that impact visitors the most.”
Written by Erica Zazo
Featured Image: Harriet Tubman mural, Harriet Tubman Museum and Educational Center; Credit: Maryland Office of Tourism