Compiled by Carol Bodensteiner
You’re a runaway slave in 1853, trying to escape bondage. Whom can you trust? How can you elude slave catchers? Can you make it to freedom? Or will you be captured and sent back?
The African American Museum of Iowa invites students and adults to get closer to the experience of escaping slaves as they traveled Iowa’s Underground Railroad. “Our Journey to Freedom program is activity- and education-based,” explains Michelle Poe, museum education director. “To help them understand the slave experience, participants do work that slaves would have done. Then they’re whisked away by others helping them escape. They learn about navigating with the stars, making fires, and finding food as escaped slaves would have.”
The 3rd- through 6th-grade students who participate in the daylong program are studying about slavery in school, says Poe. Adults participate in shorter programs. “At first kids think the labor is fun because it’s a field trip for them,” she says. “But as the overseer yells and explains the consequences of not doing well, they understand the gravity of the situation.”
Because the experience is serious and often emotional, all participants have an opportunity to reflect by writing, drawing, and talking at the end of the day.
Visit www.blackiowa.org — C.B.
Photo courtesy African American Museum of Iowa.