Intentionally located in Cincinnati, where thousands of slaves escaped to freedom after crossing the Ohio River, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center portrays nearly 400 years of slavery. From the first Africans brought to the “new world” in 1619 to people still enslaved around the world today, the experience was an eye-opening and heartbreaking history lesson.
Like most people around the world, I vehemently disagree with supremacist beliefs and am horrified by the atrocities committed by the Nazis during World War II. Standing on the grounds of the Dachau concentration camp and reading the names on the Stolperstein embedded in the cobblestone streets across Europe were sobering reminders of that dark time in history and touched me deeply.
My visit to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati was equally sobering.
During our visit we experienced:
- From Slavery to Freedom*
- The Rosa Parks Experience
- The Slave Pen
- Brothers of the Borderland
- Escape Gallery*
* I feel we went through these exhibits faster than I would have liked because we weren’t sure how much was ahead of us, and we had to leave for the airport at 3:00 pm. It would have been nice to go through these exhibits a little more slowly, to read and experience them more fully. I recommend allowing three to four hours to properly tour the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
Pro Tip: The museum is closed on Sundays and Mondays.
I paid full price for my visit to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and always share my honest opinions.
From Slavery to Freedom
This exhibit details more than 245 years of slavery in the United States, from the first ship of African slaves brought to America in 1619 to the ratification of the 13th Amendment which abolished slavery. Louise spent quite a bit of time processing the details of the 12 US Presidents who owned slaves and assessing how the map of the US had changed over the past few centuries while Charlotte was interested in the link between women’s rights advocates and abolitionists.
The Rosa Parks Experience
For an additional $5 per person, you can experience what it was like for Rosa Parks when she refused to move to the back of the bus in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama. While it was brief (only about three minutes long), it was very moving to temporarily be in the body of a black woman in the south during segregation.
Louise and I are reading The Help together right now. The Rosa Parks Experience was a great connection back to the book set at a similar time and location.
Pro Tip: There is no student, child, or senior discount available for this add-on experience.
Slave traders used slave pens to hold the men, women, and children being bought and sold as part of the slave trade. In this wooden structure recovered from a nearby farm in Kentucky, human beings were chained together in horrible conditions as they awaited the next phase of their terrifying experience. Stepping inside the slave pen and reading the names of the people who were imprisoned there was heartbreaking.
This quote, posted near the slave pen just devastated me. Not only have we as a human race not stopped genocide after World War II, we also haven’t stopped slavery.
Brothers of the Borderland
This 25-minute film begins with an introduction by Oprah Winfrey. I found it to be an age-appropriate way for my 11-year-old to understand the terrifying experience of being enslaved and the bravery and cooperation needed to escape to freedom.
Pro Tip: When the door opens in the first room of the experience, get up and move to the other room. The small group of us watching the film sat there for a while before we figured that out!
This exhibit focuses on the last 35 years of slavery in the US, from 1830 to 1865. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center calls this exhibit “family-friendly” and I tend to agree. There are different experiences based on the visitor’s age. Younger children can read Henry’s Freedom Box, an award-winning children’s book about Henry Brown. Parents will likely find that the quotes leading into the exhibit pull at their heartstrings.
NOTE: We skipped The Struggle Continues, an exhibit sponsored by Coca-Cola that focuses on slavery, racism, and genocide still present in our world today. We made this choice because it is recommended for visitors 13 and older and my daughter, Louise, was with me. We also skipped the Invisible: Slavery Today exhibit for the same reason.
That said, she overheard a docent telling a small group that there are more people in slavery today than at any other point in history and she had a lot of questions for me later that evening.
What about you? Have you had a chance to visit the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati? Share your experience in the comments section below!