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A new virtual exhibit that traces some of the descendants of those who traveled the Underground Railroad to freedom aims to elevate more complete stories of freedom seekers and their allies and highlights how their descendants keep their legacy alive.
The National Park Service’s National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program says the exhibit, North is Freedom, was created in partnership with the Embassy of Canada and Slovak-Canadian photographer Yuri Dojc. It showcases photographs of Underground Railroad descendants and shares the stories of their ancestors.
“In the United States, there is this conception that a freedom seeker’s story ends once they reach freedom in a new nation, but in reality that is when their journey truly began,” said the Network to Freedom’s National Program Manager Diane Miller. “This project tells more complete stories of freedom seekers, and truly illuminates the dedication and resilience of individuals who utilized the Underground Railroad.”
This evocative photographic essay celebrates the descendants of freedom-seekers who escaped slavery in the United States from colonial times through the American Civil War. Some came entirely alone and unaided; others escaped with the help of a clandestine network of allies. Freedom seekers who chose to flee north to freedom settled from the Canadian Maritimes as far west as the Manitoba border. Some 150 years later, Slovak-Canadian photographer Yuri Dojc explores the Underground Railroad through his art, creating images of descendants. Black and white, young and old, these are the grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren of once-enslaved African Americans who have contributed to the growth of our world.
When asked about his inspiration for the project, photographer Yuri Dojc said:
My art tends to be derived from serendipitous encounters that spur cross-country photographic quests. Happening upon a monument to the Underground Railroad in Owen Sound, Ontario, was the touch-paper that sparked North is Freedom. I hadn’t yet been to their annual Emancipation Festival and was unaware that this city, then known as the village of Sydenham, was the last ‘terminal’ that ‘conductors’ guided escaped slaves to on the road north to freedom. As an immigrant to Canada, who fled Communism in 1968 when Russian tanks rolled into my native country, I’ve always had an interest in the flight from oppression. There is an important story to tell about the ramifications of a brave decision to defy odds, run, and relocate to safety in order to secure a better and brighter future for the generations that follow them and it’s one that very much resonates today. I’m eternally grateful to all the descendants who were kind enough to open their homes and their hearts to me. This project is to celebrate them and their family history.
According to the Embassy of Canada, “Freedom-seekers and their descendants are an important part of Canada’s history. We are proud to shine a light on their stories and the unimaginable journey they embarked on, and survived, to gain freedom.”
You can view the exhibit by going to this website and clicking on the photo.
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