RAILROAD HISTORIC TRAIL
HON. PETER H. KOSTMAYER
of Remarks – January 24, 1990)
HON. PETER H. KOSTMAYER
in the House of Representatives
TUESDAY, JANUARY 23, 1990
Mr. Speaker, today I am introducing legislation to establish the
Underground Railroad Historic Trail. The Underground Railroad
was a secret avenue from slavery to freedom in the Northern
States and Canada for somewhere between 30,000 and 100,000
slaves from approximately 1815 through the 1860’s. Slaves were
hidden in stables, attics, and secret passages in homes across
the country. Many of these sites are still standing today.
This legislation would help preserve these way stations for our
descendants. Preceding the establishment of the trail would be
a study and evaluation of the locations, their historic
significance, architectural integrity, and physical condition.
I would also like to take the
opportunity to insert portions of an article by Lacy McCrary
entitled ‘Liberty Train,
Lingering Tracks’ that appeared in the Philadelphia
Inquirer on January 16.
The Underground Railroad [was] a
train that had no tracks, no stations, no timetables. Instead,
it was a network of paths through the woods and fields, river
crossings, boats and ships and wagons. Its stations were
churches, homes, farmhouses, barns and cellars of white and
black people who opposed slavery and risked their lives in many
cases to help the slaves escape their Southern masters….
U.S. Rep. Peter H. Kostmayer (D.,Pa.)
wants the federal government to formally identify those perilous
paths to freedom. Kostmayer says he will introduce a bill to
establish the Underground ‘Railroad Historic Trail’ as a
‘fitting and appropriate national commemoration to those who
fled to freedom on the railroad and to those who aided slaves
seeking their freedom.’
‘It is a part of our history which
reflects well on the country, but which has an unhappier side,’
Kostmayer said in a recent interview. ‘We need to remember we
were a country in which slavery existed. And at the same time
remember there were people who thought it was wrong and were
willing to risk their lives to change it,’ Kostmayer said.
He said some of the stations had
been individually designated, ‘but I don’t think any
comprehensive effort has been made to recognize as many stations
Kostmayer’s bill would direct the
Secretary of the Interior to designate a route as the
Underground Railroad Historic Trail, install suitable signs and
markers and provide maps, brochures and other informational
devices to assist the public.
Mount Gilead A.M.E. Church, a neat,
two-story fieldstone building, stands in a grove of trees atop
Buckingham Mountain in Buckingham Township, Bucks County. The
church, originally built of logs in 1835, was the last main stop
on the Underground Railroad in Pennsylvania. From the church,
fugitive slaves were transported across the Delaware River into
New Jersey. It is marked as a ‘historic place’ by the Bucks
County Conservancy, but there is nothing to indicate it was a
part of the road to freedom * * *.
No one knows how many slaves
traveled the Underground Railroad to freedom. Charles L.
Blockson, a prominent historian at Temple University, says
it could have been as few as 30,000 or as many as 100,000 who
fled roughly between 1830 and 1860, in what he called ‘an epic
of American heroism.’
Later Blockson learned about people
such as Harriet Tubman, called Moses to other blacks, who was
born a slave in Maryland and fled north to freedom in 1849, to
the Philadelphia area, where she joined and inspired the
Underground Railroad. At least 19 times, Tubman returned south
to conduct more than 300 fugitives, including her own family,
northward. He learned about William Still, of whom it was said
that 19 of every 20 fugitives passing through Philadelphia
stopped at his home on Lombard Street in Society Hill.
Blockson said he was elated at the
idea of a historic trail.
‘I think it would help foster better
interracial understanding and give the present generation a
sense of the past and the tribulations of people of all races
and creeds who came together for a just cause,’ said Blockson,
now curator of the Afro-American Collection named after him at