Black History Month is a time to reflect on the past but recognizing important landmarks for African Americans during slavery can be difficult. Like most African-American history, oral history has been the core to keeping the memory of the Underground Railroad alive.
While walking around town or taking a drive, there are plenty of stops that are rich with history that go unnoticed. Even though there are many landmarks of the Underground Railroad that will never be known, because their stories have died out along with the generations that once passed along their importance, there are still a few landmarks that have retained their significance. Here are some places in D.C., Delaware, Maryland and Virginia that were integral in African-American history and the Underground Railroad that you didn’t know about or just never had the time to stop and explore.
Mount Zion Cemetery (2501 Mill Rd., N.W.), named for the Mount Zion United Methodist Church, is comprised of the old Methodist Burying Ground and the Female Union Band Society Graveyard, founded in 1842 by a group of free black women. The two cemeteries share three acres of land and have combined into one. An eight-foot-by-eight-foot brick structure on the side of a hill was originally intended to store corpses until their burials. It’s believed to also have been used as a hiding place by runaway slaves who may have fled through Rock Creek Park, along the Potomac River and continued on to the free state of Pennsylvania. Although hard to see to the untrained eye, people on the lookout can still visit the hiding spot.
Mount Zion United Methodist Church (1334 29th St., N.W.), founded by black members of the Dumbarton Street M.E. Church in 1816, is the oldest African-American church in D.C. Located in the heart of Georgetown, the church served the once abundant African-American community in the neighborhood. The building, constructed in 1876, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. The Mount Zion United Methodist Community House, located behind the church, serves as a mini museum with church records, photographs and artifacts. Visitors can learn or relive the history of the now-defunct African-American community in Georgetown.
Frederick Douglas National Historic Site (1411 W St., S.E.) preserves the life and accomplishments of famed abolitionist Frederick Douglas. Guided tours are given daily for visitors to learn about how Douglas went from a runaway slave to an acclaimed member of society. Find out more online at nps.gov/frdo.
The Corbit-Sharp House (118 Main St., Odessa, Del.) was built by William Corbit, a local tanner and a Quaker, in 1774. Corbit and his family would reportedly hide runaway slaves in their house on the third floor. Now owned and operated by the Historic Odessa Foundation, the house is open to the public on Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and Sundays from 1-4 p.m. historicodessa.org.
Wilmington Friends Meeting House (401 North West St., Wilmington, Del.) was frequently visited by Thomas Garrett known as the“Stationmaster of the Underground Railroad.” Garrett was an abolitionist who violated the Fugitive Slave Act for freeing slaves. Garrett had to pay a fine and sold most of his possessions to earn the money back. However, he was still able to help 2,700 runaway slaves find their way to freedom. He was also a good friend of Underground Railroad Conductor Harriet Tubman. Garrett is buried in the nearby burial ground.
Brodess Farm (Greenbrier Rd., Bucktown, Md.) was owned by Edward Brodess who was Tubman, her mother and her siblings’ slaveowner. Tubman grew up under his ownership but she and her family were often hired out to nearby farmers. The family’s constant separation was taxing for the family. Tubman said that while Brodess himself wasn’t cruel to her, neighboring slaveowners were brutal. The original home is no longer at the location and the existing home is privately owned. Two markers in the area honor Tubman’s legacy.
Bucktown Village Store (4303 Bucktown Rd., Cambridge, Md.) is the location where Tubman made her first public resistance to the slave system. While attempting to help an enslaved man, Tubman received a blow to the head. The blow would cause Tubman to suffer from headaches and seizers for the rest of her life. The store is now a museum that offers tours open to the public. Admission is free. visitdorchester.org/bucktown-
Mount Pleasant Cemetery (2246 Marsh Creek Rd., Preston, Md.), originally owned by Mount Pleasant Methodist Episcopal Church, is thought to have been used as a meeting place for Tubman and fugitives of the Underground Railroad. Since slaves meeting in groups was against the law, Tubman preferred to meet in secret away from plantations and slaveowners.
Pocahontas Island Black History Museum (224 Witten St., Petersburg, Va.) is in an area of Petersburg that was a hotbed for runaway slaves attempting to flee. In an incident known as the Keziah Affair, five slaves escaped from Pocahontas Island onto a ship called the Keziah. The slaves were found hidden inside when the Keziah ran aground in the Appomattox River, the last point before liberation above the Mason-Dixon Line, in 1858. Visitors can learn the history of the area in the small museum. Hours vary. Appointments are encouraged. pocahontasislandmuseum.com.
A residence at 215 Witten Street in Petersburg, Va., dubbed the Underground Railroad House, is suspected to have been a hiding place for runaway slaves. Although there is little proof of the specifics, the home has a six-foot-deep crawl space in the floor which was unusual for neighboring homes but would have made it a good candidate to hide fugitive slaves.