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Columbus home to 22 “stations” on underground railroad

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Franklin County is sprinkled with buildings that were “stations” on the Underground Railroad, a system of stops used in the mid-1800s to transport blacks from slavery in the South to freedom in the North. Columbus has 22 documented sites, said Cathy Nelson, coordinator for social studies for Columbus Public Schools.Columbus was a common stop for slaves, said William E. Nelson, professor of African American and African studies and political science. Fugitive slaves often traveled through Cincinnati to Columbus and then on to Dayton. From there, the slaves would continue north to cities such as Chicago, he said. Many black churches in Columbus welcomed the slaves, William E. Nelson said.The Kappa Sigma fraternity house, 1842 Indianola Ave., was one of the stations in Columbus. The house was built prior to the Civil War on an estate owned by the Neil family, said Jay Beatley, alumnus of Kappa Sigma at Ohio State.There is a tunnel in the boiler room and throughout the house, said Donni Digeronimo, president of Kappa Sigma. Supposedly, the tunnels crawl under the Pi Beta Phi sorority house at 1845 Indianola Ave., and reach all the way west to the Olentangy River, he said.The Southwick-Good Funeral Chapel in Clintonville was another station on the Underground Railroad. Originally, the funeral chapel was the Clinton Chapel, built in 1838, said Bill Good, funeral director at Southwick-Good.”This building is probably the only remaining building [from the 1800s] of Clintonville,” Good said.Slaves would travel by night and stay in houses during the day, Good said. In the chapel, slaves stayed in a small room that now serves as an office.”It’s a good feeling [to work in this building],” Good said. “We’re proud to be in this building.”In 1997, Clintonville celebrated its 150th anniversary. As part of the festivities, community members put together a time capsule and buried it, to be opened again in 2047. The capsule includes information about Southwick-Good’s involvement in the Underground Railroad, Good said.A large amount of research is involved in determining whether buildings were part of the Underground Railroad, Cathy Nelson said. Family background and genealogy of the building owners are keys to unlocking the history of a particular building. There was a huge risk for those who were engaged in helping to free slaves, she said.”We [the Ohio Underground Railroad Association] research stories that have never been told,” Cathy Nelson said.The system of American slavery was one of the worst forms of oppression in the world, William E. Nelson said.”The Underground Railroad was designed to destroy the system of extreme brutality,” he said.The Underground Railroad began decades before the Civil War, and the efforts to help slaves escape continued into the war years. Many of those who helped the slaves escape to freedom were black leaders, William E. Nelson said.

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