As part of Galveston’s annual Juneteenth activities, Galveston Historical Foundation (GHF) will present its 6th annual Underground Railroad program to introduce local children to the stories of American slaves who escaped to freedom, and the abolitionists who helped them. The event will be held Thursday, June 12, at KempnerPark and Garten Verein, 2704 Avenue O, from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The event is free. Groups and families are welcome with pre-registration. Call 409-765-7834 to register. Children must be accompanied by an adult chaperone.
This year, a new character from Galveston’s 19th-century history will be added to the program, based on research from the Library of Congress’ transcripts of “Slave Narratives,” oral histories collected from 1936 to 1938 by the Federal Writers Project from survivors of the last years of slavery in America. GalvestonIsland figures large in several of these survival stories, including that of Pierce Harper, who settled in Galveston after he was liberated from slavery, becoming a preacher at the FirstUnionBaptistChurch.
“From Slavery to Freedom” invites children to participate in a day of re-enactments by 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.
Last year’s highlight was the re-enactment of Lavinia Bell, a slave who escaped from Galveston. For five years, Tommie Boudreaux, a retired educator and volunteer leader on the Galveston Historical Foundation's African American Heritage and Education Committees, had been trying to find documentation of slaves from Galveston who escaped to freedom via the Underground Railroad to add to a program that included characters such as Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Box Brown.
This year, Boudreaux again found a Galveston connection. It was her Library of Congress research that led to the discovery of the new character, Pierce Harper, who will be added to the roster of re-enactments this year.
In the photo: Corlie Jackson portrays Vina Still, a slave whose husband was able to buy his own freedom and, with the help of friends and family members, bring Vina and their children to freedom in Philadelphia. Photo by David Canright/GHF.