Discover a legacy of heroes in Montgomery County, Maryland

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Immersive experiences and archaeological exhibits bring the story of African-American freedom seekers to life for visitors.

At the Josiah Henson Museum and Park, visitors can feel the weight of the past. Interpretive exhibits based on Henson’s handwriting reveal details of everyday life on a plantation, while a log kitchen offers an immersion in the experience of a slave cook. The place is one of many African American heritage sites in Montgomery County, Maryland, which played a key role in the Underground Railroad.

Almost 80 percent of American tourists participate in cultural heritage-related activities during their travels, and more are looking for opportunities closer to home. Travelers to the DC area can find a rare combination of heritage sites and outdoor experiences in neighboring Montgomery County. Home to one of Maryland’s largest collections of African American history, the area has ties to heroic abolitionists like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, and features heritage sites ranging from hiking trails reminiscent of the Underground Railroad to living history centers that describe the life of the 19th century plantations. .

Along with the Josiah Henson Museum and Park, African American Heritage Sites such as Woodlawn Manor Cultural Park and Underground Railroad Experience Trail, Button Farm Living History Center and African American Museum and Park American Oakley Cabin give visitors to Montgomery County a more in-depth appreciation of the efforts of freedom seekers.

“We live in a time when everyone wakes up with other stories,” said Sarah Rogers, CEO of Heritage Montgomery. “If you learn, you care, and if you care, you want to preserve this place.”

Heritage sites that evoke life before emancipation

Proximity to the Free North and access to several bodies of water made Maryland an important location for the Underground Railroad. The Potomac River, C&O Canal, and Seneca Creek, for example, allowed enslaved African Americans to reach cities like Baltimore and DC, both of which had large free black communities. Montgomery County in particular has become a gathering point for freedom seekers, in large part because of its geography. The county is close to the Mason Dixon Line separating north and south, as well as Pennsylvania, providing easier access to the Ohio Valley and to and through the Great Lakes in Canada.

Reverend Josiah Henson, for example, escaped slavery on the Issac Riley plantation by fleeing to Canada in 1830. Henson then became a conductor on the Underground Railroad, helping 118 slaves escape. in Canada, and later published an autobiography that included vivid depictions of his enslavement. This autobiography, “The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly Slave, Now Resident in Canada,” was a major influence on Harriet Beecher Stowe’s famous novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” which became an inspiration to the abolitionist movement.

This story comes to life at the new Josiah Henson Museum and Park. “Josiah Henson’s account provides a first-hand look at the remarkable events he endured and the freedom he ultimately obtained for himself, his family and many others who were enslaved,” Cassandra said. Michaud, principal archaeologist of Montgomery Parks. Michaud led archaeological research that uncovered more than 50,000 artifacts at Josiah Henson’s site, many of them kitchen chimney sweeps, and was a member of the museum’s design and construction team. Visitors can experience the context of Henson’s story at the Log Kitchen, where audio recordings feature once enslaved people describing their work experiences. Another exhibit features direct quotes from Henson alongside illustrations created specifically for the museum.

“This site is unusual in that the visitor learns the story from a slave’s perspective,” Michaud said.

For a more active immersion, visitors can head to the Woodlawn Manor Cultural Park & ​​Underground Railroad Experience Trail. The four-mile drive is scenic, but poses challenges meant to evoke a slave’s escape attempt. “It’s really about exploring what it would be like if you decided to run. And that’s pretty revealing, ”Rogers said. Hikers can go it alone or take a guided hike that provides historical context along the way. Night hikes are also available and can give visitors a more in-depth idea of ​​what the pursuit of freedom often demands.

Next, visitors can explore the Woodlawn Stone Barn Interpretive Center, where exhibits tell about slave lives, as well as local communities founded by newly emancipated people.

“One of the main points examined is the relationship that the Society of Friends, also known as the Quakers, had with slavery. They really started to think [on enslavement] and ask tough questions in the early 1800s, ”Rogers said.

Experiences that help communicate “the deepest history of slavery”

The history of the Quaker communities of Montgomery County provides a solid starting point for a visit to The Oakley Cabin African American Museum and Park. The property, on the site of what was once a roadside African-American community, once housed three nearly identical log cabins. One of the cabins, known as the Oakley Cabin, has been preserved and turned into a living museum. Inside, historical artifacts depict how a formerly enslaved person would have lived after being newly freed. Tours are available that describe the life of African-American families in the area during the reconstruction era in the 1800s, but the exterior of the property is also open to visitors, including the surrounding trails and a playground. picnic.

Anthony Cohen, historian and president of the Button Farm Living History Center, wants visitors to Montgomery County to reflect on the “legacy” of slavery, from reconstruction to the Jim Crow era to our current legal and judicial systems. After leading a walking group through the towns of the Underground Railroad from Maryland to Canada in 1996, Cohen was asked to help Oprah Winfrey prepare for her role in the movie “Beloved”. He created an immersive experience of what plantation life would have been like for a slave, from menial labor to an overnight escape attempt.

The experience inspired Cohen to establish the Button Farm Living History Center, where visitors and school groups can participate in “hands-on, hands-on” educational programs that interpret Maryland plantation life and railroad history. clandestine.

“The whole experience is real time, true to life, and we use it as an engagement point to speak out and communicate the deeper story of slavery that you can’t find in the history books.” , Cohen said.

On Button Farm Almanac hour-long tours, visitors can take a behind-the-scenes look at how the property works. That could mean encountering cotton plants in the museum’s garden, where more than 75 varieties of ancient vegetables and herbs are grown that appeared in early Montgomery County agricultural records. Children might be made to wonder what an historical artifact, such as a clam shell, would have been used on the plantation. From these hands-on activities, visitors “get a glimpse of how the enslaved Montgomery Counties lived,” Cohen said.

These learning experiences also tend to spark discussion about the connections that can be made between slavery and today, as Cohen makes a point of asking visitors thoughtful questions.

“We always ask them, ‘What are the modern parallels? What are the correlations? What is unjust today in the same way that slavery was unjust then? ‘ We want them to think about these issues, ”Cohen said.

Learn about visiting Montgomery County’s African American heritage sites


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