Sunday, October 22, 2000

Thousands raise cash for center

By Randy McNutt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        They gathered at Sawyer Point on Saturday to celebrate an idea as much as to raise the money to help bring it to life.

        The second annual “Walk As One” for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center attracted 2,500 to 3,000 people of varied faiths, races and economic backgrounds. Organizers say that's more than twice as many people who attended last year's event.

[photo] “Walk As One” participants pass a statue of James Bradly, a slave who bought his freedom and moved to Cincinnati to attend Lane Seminary in the 1830s.
(Tony Jones photo)
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        From city and suburbs, people donned event shirts and walked around downtown with financial support from friends and co-workers.

        They didn't walk for the exercise.

        The meaning was evident to Charles Dantzler, who lives in Wyoming and walked and ran the 6 miles.

        “For me it symbolized the running the slaves had to do to get away,” said Mr. Dantzler as he sat with hundreds of other walkers along Yeatman's Cove after the event Saturday.

        “When the slaves got tired, they rested and walked. Then they ran. That's what I did.”

        Cynthia Davis of Springdale said that while the primary purpose of the walk is fund-raising, its transcendent meaning involves the entire community.

        “It's about history, it's about reliving history,” Ms. Davis said. “It's a multicultural event.”

        Though the Freedom Center is consistently in the public eye, it still must find enough money to support itself when it opens in 2004.

        Last year, the center received about $100,000 from the walk. Saturday's walk was expected to raise $125,000 to $150,000, said Ernest Britton, spokesman for the Freedom Center.

        “Fund raising is right on target — just over $60 million,” he said. “By the end of the year or early next year we'll unveil a (Freedom Center) model, which is close to completion.

        “It is gaining a lot of at tention. Whenever Ed Rigaud (president and CEO) travels, he talks to people who say they are counting down to 2004, planning their schedules so they can visit the center.”

        Mr. Rigaud said the center's financial support “demonstrates America's deep desire to reconcile decades of separation — which is the legacy of slavery — by coming together around our shared desire for "freedom.'”

        On Oct. 11, President Clinton signed the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center Act. It will provide $16 million over the next four years to construct buildings, develop exhibits and programs and start the center's cooperative agreement with the National Park Service to interpret the history of the Underground Railroad.

        Of the $60 million raised so far, $34 million has come from individuals, corporations and foundations, Mr. Britton said.

        “Walk As One,” with its varied races working together, symbolized the heart of the original Underground Railroad movement.

        Its “conductors,” many in small towns north of Cincinnati, risked their reputations and lives to hide runaway slaves in the years before Civil War.

        In this part of the country Cincinnati was a focal point of the railroad, which sent slaves on their way North to Canada and other places.

        “The walk is a great statement for diversity and freedom,” said Chip Harrod, director of the National Conference for Community and Justice, a cosponsor of the event.

        The Freedom Center and the adjacent Freedom Park will be built along the river on 4 acres south of the new South Second Street, west of Walnut Street, north of relocated Theodore M. Berry Way and east of Vine Street. It is a part of Cincinnati's $2 billion riverfront redevelopment.

        Lew Moores contributed to this report.

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- Thousands raise cash for center
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