The seventh grade had the privilege of touring Pittsburgh with Sarah Martin to take part in an amazing reenactment of runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad. This tour helped students to grasp Pittsburgh's role in the Underground Railroad during our unit on the history of slavery. One of the purposes of the outing was to connect the dots of the journey of a runaway slave in Pittsburgh – from Mt. Washington down to Station Square and across the Monongahela River, through downtown, and then north out of the city.
As runaway slaves made their way north, many used rivers to help achieve freedom. They traveled down the Mon from south to north. The runaway slaves would cross the wooden Smithfield Street Bridge. Across the bridge to the left was the Mon house. This is where free African Americans workers would help shepherd runaways. Across the street was the original site of the Bethlehem AE Baptist Church, where runaways and free African Americans were educated. A free African American, and a promoter of African American nationalism, Martin Delany and others would help educate freed African Americans through the church. They even helped establish the Miller Public School for freed African Americans.
Blocks from the Mon house and Bethlehem Baptist Church was Delany's office (present day Market Square) where he practiced medicine. Being part of the abolitionist movement is something he didn't publicize. This courageous man spoke out against slavery. He lived his life to be part of the movement (sober, sane, and intellectualism). Educated at Bethel Church and Harvard, he eventually left Harvard because of push back from students. During the Civil War he was commissioned as an officer.
We walked less than one block from Delany's office to the Oyster House where we learned that its basement was used as a station on the Underground Railroad.
From Market Square, we journeyed to Mt. Washington, specifically Chatham Village and the Bigham house, which was built in the early 1800s. Thomas Bigham was lawyer and a publisher. After the fugitive slave law was enforced, he would defend caught African Americans. He would speak his abolitionist views in his newspaper that he printed. Privately he had a safe house with a secret compartment where he would hide runaways. We hiked through the wooded ½ mile path uphill to the back of the Bigham house. On the hike students learned about what runaways would eat in Western Pennsylvania on their journey north in the wild. We ended our hike at the back of the Bigham House. Here a house servant, Lucinda Bryant, would hang a blanket to signal to runaways when it was clear for them to come into the attic.
Before this trip, most students had no idea the impact slavery had on Pittsburgh. During our two-hour reenactment, students were able to gain a better understanding of Pittsburgh's role in helping runaways continue their journey to freedom.