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Galveston Historical Foundation
News Release
Thursday, June 03, 2010


GALVESTON, Texas –As part of Galveston’s Juneteenth event schedule, Galveston Historical Foundation will present a day of children’s programming highlighting the dramatic stories of people who lived through the turbulent years before and after President Abraham Lincoln freed all slaves with his Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. “The Making of the Underground Railroad: From Slavery to Freedom” will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Thursday, June 17, at Garten Verein Pavilion and Kempner Park, 27th and Avenue O in Galveston. 

Richard Nelson, one of the most important African Americans in Galveston and Texas History, will be portrayed by David O’Neal, a Galveston Independent School District trustee and longtime leader in this historic city’s African-American community.

Nelson’s life story is the newest addition to GHF’s annual day-long program to inform students 8 to 12 years old about the Underground Railroad that allowed tens of thousands of slaves to escape to freedom in the North before slavery ended. Nelson was the first African-American newspaper owner and publisher in Texas and was a Galveston County justice of the peace during the 1870s, during Reconstruction. He established a weekly newspaper, the Galveston Spectator, in 1873. Several years later, he established another Galveston newspaper, the Freedman.

The Underground Railroad Program is one of several events scheduled this month in Galveston to celebrate Juneteenth, the annual celebration that commemorates the first public reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in Texas on June, 19, 1865. The Underground Railroad Program is free and open to the public. Groups and families are welcome with pre-registration. To register, call Tommie D. Boudreaux at 409-740-0454 or Denise Alexander at 409-765-7834. Children who participate must be accompanied by an adult. Breakfast and lunch will be served.

“Nelson is one of the lesser-known outstanding African-American leaders who emerged in Texas and Galveston after the Civil War,” said Boudreaux, an Underground Railroad Program organizer and member of GHF’s African-American Heritage Committee. “Besides establishing the first African-American-owned newspaper in Texas—in Galveston, he was involved in local and state politics as well.”

Besides publishing news important to African Americans, Nelson constantly encouraged them to improve their lives through education, Boudreaux said. Nelson was born in Florida in 1842 and came to Texas in 1859. He died in Galveston in 1914.

“Our program presents stories of unique slave escapes as well as stories about white abolitionists who played significant roles in helping slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad,” Boudreaux said.

In this year’s program, Galveston musician June Pulliam will teach children period songs whose themes relate to the Underground Railroad experience. Students also will learn about “coded quilts” used to help slaves along the way to freedom. A presentation on historic places in Galveston, carriage rides and a crafts session also are included in the program.

Underground Railroad characters to be represented during the program include:  

Henry “Box” Brown, played by James Steadham
Escaped to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in a shipping box – delivered to William Still.

Eliza Harris, played by Marie Freeman
After learning that she would be sold, swam the partially frozen Ohio River with her baby son to freedom.

Patty Cannon, played by Pam Gilbert
Reverse Underground Railroad near Delaware. Using the same terminology and similar routes, she and her gang captured free slaves and sold them to slave owners.

Harriet Tubman, played by Ella Lewis
A runaway slave, known as the “Moses of her people.” Over the course of 10 years, she led hundreds of slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad.

Frederick Douglass, played by Clarence Caroline
Born a slave, he escaped when he obtained the appropriate papers supplied by a free black seaman. He dressed as a sailor just back from duty and took a train from Baltimore to New York. An orator and author, he became one of the best known black abolitionists.

Levi Coffin, presented by Scott Crossno
Mr. Coffin was referred to by many as the “President of the Underground Railroad” in Indiana. Coffin and his wife Catherine had several safe houses, including their home. Their home had many secret hiding places. They helped ten of thousands to escape to freedom.

Robert Smalls, played by Lillie Little (As wife Hannah)
From slave to Congressman. Robert Smalls was hired out to work on a Confederate ship, he learned how to navigate the ship and all the singles to travel the waters. While the captain and all his men were away, Smalls took command of the ship with his family and friends aboard and turned the ship over to the Union Army. In 2004 a Navy Vessel (Logistics Support Vessel – LSV-8) was named the Major General Robert Smalls. In 2005, Army Fort Eustis in Virginia named its newest lodging facility the General Smalls Inn.

Pierce Harper, played by Bobby Wilson
One of many ex-slaves interviewed during the Federal Writer’s Project (1936-1938), Pierce Harper was born in 1851and sold to Mr. Harper for $1100 at eight years old in North Carolina. He was interviewed in Galveston, Texas at age 86. He shared his experience as a slave as well as how his father and other slaves were treated. Mr. Harper had several jobs after freedom, and came to Galveston, Texas in 1877 and joined First Union Baptist Church and was a preacher for 25 years.

For more information about the Underground Railroad program, contact Tommie Boudreaux (409) 740-0454 or Denise Alexander (409) 765-7834.

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