‘Doorway to Freedom’ exhibit sheds light on Detroit’s Anti-Slavery Society

Juneteenth marks freedom for African Americans

The “Doorway to Freedom” exhibit inside the Detroit Historical Museum in Midtown Detroit is a display about the City of Detroit and the Underground Railroad.

DETROITJuneteenth marks freedom, a second and final liberation for African Americans in the United States. It’s also an opportunity to focus on parts of the nation’s history that often go untold.

The “Doorway to Freedom” exhibit inside the Detroit Historical Museum in Midtown Detroit is a display about the City of Detroit and the Underground Railroad.

“This tells a story about Detroiters, who fought for enslave people fleeing slavery from the south. This also tells a story about people who were escaping,” Billy Wall-Winkel, with the Detroit Historical Museum, said.

Slaves left the South and headed North to seek freedom. They traveled to a lot of cities in the North like Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and Detroit. Wall-Winkel said Detroit has its own dark past when it comes to slavery.

“Slavery was in Detroit for hundreds of years. The last slave in Michigan was actually still enslaved in 1837 when Michigan became a state,” Wall-Winkel said.

Wall-Winkel said that’s why the Detroit Anti-Slavery Society was formed.

“This exhibit also tells a story about the Detroit Anti-Slavery Society. We talk about the Colored Vigilance COmmittee and other groups who organized things in order to fight against slave catchers. Anti-Slavery Society popped up all across the North beginning in the 1830s. Michigan Anti-Slavery Society began in Adrian in 1833,” Wall-Winkel said.

The organization is made of leaders who didn’t agree with slavery and helped slaves escape by any means necessary.

“Detroit played a massive role in the Underground Railroad. For a lot of people we were the last stop to freedom. We were also heavily monitored by slave catchers,” Wall-Winkel said.

“A lot of people don’t like difficult history. They don’t like when they’re connected to difficult history. A lot of people in Metro Detroit, white and Black have connections to the South,” Wall-Winkel said.

Wall-Winkel said that’s why many don’t know, or are just hearing out, the end of slavery -- what many call Juneteenth.

“Juneteenth celebrates the proclamation of General Order No. 3, which was given by General Jordan Granger when he entered Galveston, Texas in 1865. It was basically a proclamation that said slaves in Texas were free. For two and a half years the news of the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t reach the people who were enslaved. It should be a day that we celebrate every single year. It should be a day that we understand what caused the Civil War. What injustice still permeated through our society because of the actions before and during the Civil War and everyone should know about it,” Wall-Winkel said.

Although the Anti-Slavery movement thrived during that time, Detroit was not the final destination for many of the slaves. Many crossed the Detroit River into Canada.

Click here if you’d like to see the display and want more information.

Read: Continuous Juneteenth coverage

About the Author:

Larry Spruill Jr. joined the Local 4 News team in January 2018. Prior, he worked at WJAX in Jacksonville, Florida. Larry grew up as a military kid because his father is a retired Chief of the United States Air Force.