Hidden History: Geneseo's Underground Railroad

GENESEO, Illinois - When you think of the Underground Railroad, perhaps you think of Harriet Tubman, the abolitionist known for her role in helping hundreds of runaway slaves, and who will soon grace the cover of the $20 bill.
You probably don't think of efforts made right here in the Quad Cities Area to help escaped slaves on their journey to freedom.
Local 4's Emily Scarlett takes a journey to a well-known town, with a little known history.
 
The founding fathers of Geneseo, Illinois traveled here in 1836 from Geneseo, New York.
 
Historian Angie Snook tells Local 4 News, "They purposely did this because the railroad was coming through in 1855. They knew at that time that if they could get a railroad through that they could also get the slaves on railroad box cars and up into Chicago area, closer to where Harriet Tubman had her way through the Ohio River bottom."
 
The group of 38 left their families behind with the sole purpose of helping runaway slaves seeking freedom, even signing a covenant vowing their support to the cause.
 
Dr. Arthur Pitz is also a local historian. He says, "These were abolitionists. They were a persecuted minority."
There was great risk. You were breaking federal law to help the enslaved escape."
 
"They broke every rule there was in the country as far as their church, our government, a lot of times their families were against them. So, when they came here they gave up everything," says Snook.
 
Ann and George Richards where part of the second group of abolitionists who traveled to the newly founded Geneseo, Illinois. They built the house that, today, stands as the town museum. 160 years ago, it housed runaway slaves.
 
The museum features an actual hiding holes for runaway slaves built in 1855. You will see there is barely any room to move, you can't stand, and it housed as many as three runaway slaves at a time, for as many as three days. 
 
Dr. Pitz says, "Most were young males who would have had to leave whatever family they had behind, which is not easy to do. The odds were hard. You had to spend a good part of your time outdoors, often moving at night, hiding in the day."
 
Still it is said that some runaways were prepared to drink poison if caught by slave catchers, before they would return to slavery
 
Snook is also a curator for the Geneseo Museum. "As it comes out in a little bud, it comes open and it slices your fingers.Children as young as 5 and 6 years old, would be picking the cotton, as well as women who were in their 40's and 50's and this was part of their job. Their hands would be torn and bleeding but they had to keep going. The consequences would be whippings and torture."
 
 
"We need to remember that history. We're still living with the consequences of that history. I've taught in a prison. I've seen how our criminal injustice system works. It's a new form of Jim Crow," says Dr. Pitz.
 

For more information visit:

http://geneseohistoricalmuseum.com/about.htm

http://iagenweb.org/history/palimpsest/1921-May.htm

https://bqc.wikispaces.com/The+Underground+Railroad

https://iowaculture.gov/sites/default/files/History%20-%20Education%20-%20Lifelong%20Learning%20-%20Iowa%20Underground%20Railroad%20(PDF).pdf


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