Oberlin's underground railroad: The right side of history

May 15, 2017: A history gem still exists on the west side of Cleveland, offering a glimpse into a past filled with hardship and turmoil.

OBERLIN, Ohio -- A history gem still exists on the west side of Cleveland, offering a glimpse into a past filled with hardship and turmoil.

Known by many for its famous liberal arts college, the town of Oberlin played a critical role and offered hope to many as they trekked north on the underground railroad.

“We know of people hiding in boats, hiding in trains in the cargo areas, but a lot of times it was just people walking through the wilderness and following the North Star to make their way to freedom," said Liz Schultz, the Executive Director of the Oberlin Heritage Center.

To some, Oberlin is referred to as the town that started the Civil War for its part in the slave rescue of 1858. It continued to be a beacon of hope for those fighting for freedom many years after.

Frederick Douglas urged those seeking freedom to follow the North Star to Canada. That path came through Oberlin, where certain houses would hang quilts or leave lights on to signify safety.

"You could almost openly talk about abolition and slavery here where as in many other communities it was taboo to talk about that," Schultz said.

Many making the long journey north felt so safe in the tiny hamlet of northern Ohio, that they decided to stay.

That history is still preserved there in the form of monuments, centers, cemeteries, parks, homes and annual celebrations. They continue to look back on their storied past in Oberlin, hoping to educate those responsible for our future.

It’s a town summed up by the title of a speech delivered in Oberlin by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1965 titled, “Remaining Awake, Through a Great Revolution.”

Oberlin was very much awake then, and remains so today. The Oberlin heritage center offers many different walks, tours and guides to the area.

© 2017 WKYC-TV


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