GHF Presents “The Making of the Underground Railroad: From Slavery to Freedom”
Thursday, June 14, 2007
8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Garten Verein and Kempner Park
27th and Avenue O
For the past five years, as part of Galveston’s annual Juneteenth activities, Galveston Historical Foundation has produced an Underground Railroad program to educate local children about American slaves who escaped to freedom and the abolitionists who helped them. This year, the event, to be held Thursday, June 14, at Kempner Park, will add a new character to its roster. Retired Educator Ella Lewis will bring to life Galveston's Lavinia Bell, a slave who endured gruesome tortures before escaping to freedom in Montreal.
The event consists of a day of re-enactments by local volunteers of the lives of people who traveled the famous Underground Railroad. The program is designed to show children 8 to 11 years old the challenges slaves faced in escaping to freedom. Numerous hands-on activities are planned, including a musical workshop led by Izola Collins in which children learn inspirational songs from the period. Groups and families are welcome with pre-registration. Call 409-765-7834 to register. Children must be accompanied by an adult chaperone.
This year’s highlight, the re-enactment of Lavinia Bell, the slave who escaped from Galveston, came about because of the diligence of Galveston Historical Foundation’s Tommie Boudreaux. For five years, Boudreaux, a retired educator and volunteer leader on the Galveston Historical Foundation's African American Heritage and Education Committees, has been trying to find if even one slave from Galveston ever escaped to freedom via the Underground Railroad.
Boudreaux coordinates Galveston Historical Foundation's educational re-enactments of Underground Railroad characters every year as part of Galveston's Juneteenth festivities. From the beginning, she had hoped to add a person from Galveston's history to a line-up of characters that currently includes Harriet Tubman, Box Brown, Frederick Douglass and many other nationally known people who figured large in the Underground Railroad movement.
Finally, Boudreaux disovered Galveston's one recorded instance of a slave escaping to freedom. The slave's name was Lavinia Bell and she was reported in the February 2, 1861 Montreal Gazette to have been gravely tortured by her master before finally stowing aboard a steamer from Texas to Louisiana, where she disembarked and made her way north.
The doctor (John Reddy, M.D.) who examined Lavinia Bell in Montreal in 1861 reported that her ears had been mutilated, several of her teeth had been broken out, her back had been scarred from numerous lashings, one of her fingers had been cut off and she had been branded in several places on her body as punishments for previous escape attempts. Nevertheless, on her third escape attempt, Bell successfully reached safety, arriving at her final destination, Montreal, in February, 1861.
Lewis’s re-enactment of Bell offers today’s citizens an opportunity to learn about a courageous Galvestonian whose journey to freedom was fraught with dangers we can hardly imagine today.
Groups and families are welcome to attend “The Making of the Underground Railroad: From Slavery to Freedom” with pre-registration. Call 409-765-7834 to register. Children must be accompanied by an adult chaperone.