Knox County Courthouse now part of Underground Railroad Network to Freedom

Local News

Second Gentleman of the U. S. Douglas Emhoff and Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland have announced 16 additions to the National Park Service’s National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program.

The Knox County Courthouse, owned and managed by the City of Knoxville, Ill., is one of those listings. The new listings join nearly 700 other sites, programs, and facilities in the network that honor, preserve, and promote the history of resistance to enslavement through escape and flight, a news release says.

“Today’s announcement reminds us of the dark pages in our history books, but also highlights the incredible strength and resilience of Black communities,” said Haaland. “We need to look no further than the news of this week to know that our work is not done and commit ourselves to real progress. To do that, we must start by recognizing the history that brought us here.”

The event capped National Park Week, an annual weeklong celebration of America’s national parks which encourages the public to explore the vast network of our national parks, sacred sites, and historical landmarks, as well as our shared heritage contained within them.

In 1842, Susan Borders, her three children, and Hannah Morrison, who were being held in bondage in Randolph County, Illinois, attempted to escape from their enslaver. They were recaptured and held in the Knox County Jail.

Legal battles ensued between all the parties involved: the freedom seekers, the slave holder, and the Underground Railroad operatives. The Knox County Courthouse was the setting for much of it. This escape, and the subsequent legal cases that stemmed from it, draw important attention to the existence of slavery in the “free” state of Illinois and the struggle against it.

The Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program is a catalyst for innovation, partnerships, and scholarship that connects and shares the diverse legacy of the Underground Railroad across boundaries and generations. It coordinates preservation and education efforts nationwide and integrates local historical places, museums, and interpretive programs associated with the Underground Railroad into a mosaic of community, regional, and national stories.

There are now 680 listings in 39 states, Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the network. Each one provides insight into the diverse experiences of freedom seekers who bravely escaped slavery, and their allies.

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