Our History

The Inception of the Network to Freedom

Influenced by the increasing grass roots efforts by communities and descendants across the country to preserve their Underground Railroad hertitage and the recommendations of a Special Resource Study, the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Act was drafted. The goal of the program is to honor and commemorate the people of the Underground Railroad, past and present. A three-pronged program was outlined:

  • Educate the public,
  • Provide technical assistance for documenting, preserving and interpreting Underground Railroad history,
  • and, create a Network of historic sites; interpreticve and educational programs; and research and educational facilities all with a verifiable conntection to the Underground Railroad.

A bronze sculpture of Harriet Tubman and other Underground Railroad operators.
The Underground Railroad Sculpture in Battle Creek, Michigan featuring Harriet Tubman and other Underground Railroad operatives.

NPS

Community Consultation

An essential part of formulating the program envisioned in the Network to Freedom Act was consulting with community advocates and local researchers to correctly respect the community memories of the Underground Railroad. The National Park Service invited community representatives to participate in several meetings to focus on these issues. The most significant meetings were:

  • July 1999, Columbus, OH: determined the types of sties, programs and facilities that should be recognized by the Network and the guiding principles for use of the logo.
  • January 2000, Charleston, SC: clarified the standards for "verifiable association," the use of oral traditions to document Underground Railroad associations, and issues related to historic preservation of Underground Railroad properties.

The prevailing sentiment of these meetings was that the Network to Freedom should be inclusive in the types of sites, programs and facilities that could qualify. However, the need to maintain clear standards for documenting a verifiable association was emphasized. Many of the participants, having researched the Underground Railroad history for many years, were aware of the perception that accurate information about the Underground Railroad is not available and many claims for association are rooted in myth. Above all, there was concern for the importance of the history and the need for credibility in claims of Underground Railroad association.

As the Network to Freedom staff developed the mission statement for the program, the process and application form for nominating members to the Network to Freedom, and guidance on using oral traditions to research, staff continued to consult and work with community members, as well as, National Park Service staff skilled in interpretation, curation and archives.

A collage of original images from the launch of the Network to Freedom program in Philadelphia, PA.
Original images from the Network to Freedom launch in 2000.

NPS

The Launch of the Network to Freedom

The National Park Service and National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) launched the freedom star logo, application process and program website on October 12, 2000 at Underground Railroad "Network to Freedom" Day in Philadelphia, PA. The occasion centered on the story and significance of the Underground Railroad and highlighted the new National Park Service program developed to commemorate the history. The day's events included:

  • Participants received a first day issue cancellation, "Network to Freedom Day" provided by the U.S. Postal Service;
  • an "In Their Words" breakfast;
  • self-guided walking tours of Underground Railroad sites in the area;
  • a National Press Conference at Independence Square, featuring the unveiling of the Network to Freedom logo by National Park Service Director Robert Stanton and comments by Tom Kiernan, NPCA President;
  • a Network to Freedom Walk, in which participants from across the United States celebrated the program and raised awareness of the Underground Railroad by walking from Independence Square to Mother Bethel AME Church in Pennsylvania;
  • an "In the Spirit of the Ancestors" performance at Mother Bethel AME Church, including a musical performance by "Seven Quilts for Seven Sisters" depicting the communication networks used during the Underground Railroad;
  • and a Spirit of Freedom banquet, featuring a performance by Melba Moore.

Last updated: July 25, 2018

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