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A look at the roots of the Underground Railroad in Detroit

The Underground Railroad was a vast network of homes, churches, and businesses that helped black people move north to escape slavery, and for many Detroit was their last stop before they crossed the river to Canada. Calvin Moore, the lead historian for the Detroit Bus Company, took our Tati Amare on a tour of some of the places that played a major role in this network.

The first stop was the First Congregational Church of Detroit, located in Midtown. The church was organized on December 25th of 1844. Their building is currently located in Midtown Detroit on Woodward Avenue, but their original building was on Jefferson, right near the Detroit River, putting them in the perfect position to be a part of the Underground Railroad. Many of the Congregationalist churches in Michigan played a role in helping slaves gain their freedom because they were founded by people from New York who had strong anti-slavery views. Modernly, even though the current building was not a part of the Underground Railroad, the Church houses a museum in their basement with guided tours to give you an immersive storytelling experience.

Another church that played a major role in the Underground Railroad was the Second Baptist Church. It was founded in 1836 by 13 former slaves, making it the oldest black congregation in Michigan. This important depot was known as the Croghan Street Station. While their current building is in Greektown, they used to be located about 1,000 yards from the Detroit River. They would hide runaway slaves in their basement and smuggle them across the Detroit River where bounty hunters couldn't go.

The final destination on this tour is the Gateway to Freedom Monument, which is located on the edge of Hart Plaza near the riverwalk. It features George DeBaptiste pointing towards Canada surrounded by runaway slaves. DeBaptiste was the conductor of the last station in the Underground Railroad. He bought a steamboat and helped move over 5,000 runaway slaves escape to freedom in Canada.

Moore said, "Detroit's role in the Underground Railroad is probably the most integral point in the Underground Railroad because finally, people could breathe a sigh of relief of being totally and utterly free, and they could live out the ideals of the United States Constitution that says, 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'" 


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