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Experiencing Underground Railroad through First Congressional Church in Detroit

Re-enactment tour tells story of original Underground Railroad passage

DETROIT – It’s called the "Flight to Freedom": a re-enactment tour that tells the story of the Underground Railroad passage that spirited runaway slaves to freedom between 1840 and 1863..

That journey stretched for hundreds of miles, from the South to parts of the North and Midwest. Detroit was a popular spot for the slaves as they escaped to Canada.

“We still, my friends and I, laugh about the times when we went to the theater and we paid the same price, but we had to sit up in the balcony,” said Jackuline McKinney.

It’s hard to imagine now, but McKinney said those were the hard facts during the civil rights movement. Everywhere you go, there were two different sections, one for blacks and one for whites.

“I lived during that time,” McKinney said.

McKinney and her friends often meet up to celebrate Black History. Many of them marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for the freedom we have today, but she said that fight started many, many years ago and they’re getting a reminder of that at the First Congressional Church in Detroit. The church is home to the Underground Railroad Living Museum or the "Flight to Freedom" tour.

“Hello, everybody my name is Bo and I’m going to be you guys conductor on this escape to freedom. We getting ready to step through this door. This is the door of no return. Once we step through this door, there’s no turning around,” said Bo with the Underground Railroad re-enactment group.

The tour started on the Oak Alley Plantation. Its purpose was to show us what the slaves went through on the two-year journey, to escape from the South to the North.

“Now we got this place lit up a little bit, where y'all can see where you’re going. Now I want you guys to imagine, doing this in pitch black darkness. Ain’t none of you guys would have had them fancy clothes on, and shoes would have been the last thing you would have had on your feet. Do anybody know what star that is right there? That’s the North Star, and that’s what we’re going to travel by,” said Bo.

The North Star directed them.

“Now we going to keep on traveling, y'all. We been traveling for 5 1/2 months. This is Kentucky. This is a place in Kentucky where we stop sometimes to get some rest,” said Bo.

They often stopped at the homes of Quakers. They are members of a historically Christian group of religious movements formally known as the Religious Society of Friends.

Once they made it to the North, the slaves would often yell, "Freedom!"


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