Thursday, November 15, 2001

Museum's goal: Applying history




By John Johnston
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        From the outset, founders of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center have viewed the project as more than a museum focused on the story of escaping slaves.

        “It will take the positive lessons from history and apply them today, to similar challenges that we face,” says Freedom Center President Ed Rigaud, a former Procter & Gamble executive.

        “The biggest challenge we have initially is in interracial understanding and cooperation,” he says. “We aren't necessarily going to solve that one, but we can get things started and be a catalyst to bring history as a force and a light in that struggle.”

        Cincinnati was a main stop on the Underground Railroad, an informal network of abolitionists, free blacks and others who helped fugitive slaves gain freedom before the Civil War.

        Mindful of the city's history, the idea for a national center was proposed in 1994 by the National Conference of Christians and Jews, now called the National Conference for Community and Justice. A local board of trustees and a national advisory board were created, and the project was formally launched.

        Groundbreaking for the riverfront project is scheduled for mid-2002, with completion in mid-2004. About $65 million has been raised, including $41 million from private sources; the remainder from local, state and federal governments. The goal is $110 million.

        Permanent exhibits will include a 170-year-old slave pen from Mason County, Ky. It was used as a holding cell for slaves being transported to the deep South. Other features of the center: a story theater where Underground Railroad history will be told with live actors, film and special effects; and a research center linking other museums, colleges, libraries and schools through the country.
       



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