Monday, July 12, 2010

Brag About Your Connection to the Underground Railroad

I visited Ripley, OH this morning for a meeting at the John Parker House. The drive on OH 52 along the Ohio River was a nice one and a number of our hosts encouraged us to return in the fall with the changing colors of the leaves.

The small brick house museum was once the home of former slave and inventor, John Parker. After buying his freedom, Parker earned a number of patents, including one for a tobacco press. Besides some of the often-told slave stories like learning to read and his father owning and selling him and his mother, the inventor was obviously very detail-oriented. He kept very good records. Presumably they were so good that Parker decided to destroy many of them for fear some of the slaves he helped would be traced back to him. He also never liked having his picture taken for fear his image would end up on "Wanted" posters. Of course this makes for a very difficult job of constructing Parker's history. The house museum currently hangs an empty frame over the fireplace, hoping a picture can be found and confirmed. (Of the number of labels hanging on the wall, there is one picture of an African American man in reproduced newspaper clipping that may be him, but it's not yet been confirmed.)

Other visual elements include recently commissioned paintings depicting defining moments in Parker's life. These paintings, while meant to depict Parker (though we do not know what he looks like), the stories are couched in again often-told slave stories and meant to re-tell a story of The Underground Railroad. Yes, The John Parker Museum is another museum that boasts a link to the abolition of slavery and The Underground Railroad. Perhaps because I live in Ohio, it seems as though there are so many places that share this history. Of course there is The Freedom Center, but I've seen others.

While the Museum Center is currently celebrating African American history with America I Am, I'm asking you to name places, museums, collections, paintings, sculptures or other things you've seen that boasts a link to African American History.


Liz Keuffer said...

While you were in Ripley, you should have checked out The Signal House B&B. They were supposedly a safe house in the Underground Railroad. A lantern hung in the attic signaled that the waterfront was safe to bring slaves over to freedom.

Me said...

Thanks Liz. I'll try to remember this next time I visit and not sure we weren't told about this during the meeting.