News / USA

Escaped Slaves Followed the North Star to Freedom

Recreating the escape route to northern states and Canada for fleeing slaves

Follow the North Star participants learn about slavery at a re-enacted outdoor auction.
Follow the North Star participants learn about slavery at a re-enacted outdoor auction.

Multimedia

Audio

"History by immersion," is how the Conner Prairie interactive history park outside Indianapolis, Indiana, describes a program about a perilous journey to freedom endured by escaped southern slaves during the 19th-century.  It is an unforgettable walk in the woods that has special meaning during February, which is Black History Month in the United States.

The program is called Follow the North Star.  The name is adapted from an old American Negro spiritual song, Follow the Drinking Gourd.

Their new owner speaks harshly to participants before they escape and make a run for freedom.
Their new owner speaks harshly to participants before they escape and make a run for freedom.

In the years before and during the U.S. Civil War of the 1860s, escaped slaves fled northward, hiding by day and moving furtively at night.  Often their only guide was Polaris, the North Star, which they found by tracing the handle of the Big Dipper constellation, or Drinking Gourd.  But even when they crossed the Ohio and Potomac Rivers, they were by no means safe.  Slave catchers scoured free northern states like Indiana, looking for runaways.

That's the story that's re-created, ultra-realistically, at Connor Prairie.  Follow the North Star is held outside and at night and in all kinds of weather.  Participants of all races play the part of blacks who are rounded up, divided by sex into what the slavers call bucks and breeders, and sold like cattle at auction.

With help from white Quakers and free blacks, the fugitives escape and seek safe houses along what came to be called the Underground Railroad.  A high-school girl who says she learned more about Civil War history there than she could in any classroom summed up the experience.  "It was really intense," she said, adding, "I felt like an animal."

At the end of the program, each person learns his or her fate as a fugitive.  Some are captured.  Others, had they been actual slaves, would have been among those killed.  Many participants spend the entire hour and a half in tears.  For sure, just as in real life almost two centuries ago, not every runaway slave makes it to Canada and certain freedom.

You May Like

Video Miami Cubans Divided on New US Policy

While older, more conservative Cuban Americans have promoted anti-Castro political movement for years, younger generations say economically, it is time for change More

2014 Sees Dramatic Uptick in Boko Haram Abductions

Militants suspected in latest mass kidnapping of over 100 people in Gumsuri, Nigeria on Sunday More

Video Cuba Deal Is Major Victory for Pope

Role of Francis hailed throughout US, Latin America - though some Cuban-American Catholics have mixed feelings More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid