A school project which required high school students research Underground Railroad sites has led to a city being placed on the national Network to Freedom registry.
Students at a Nebraska high school began in March to research sites related to the Underground Railroad. They found gravesites of former slaves, and in the course of their research discovered more than the one site they had originally researched.
So far, the students from Arlington, Nebraska have been able to have 14 sites among Iowa, Nebraska, and Ohio listed on the registry.
In an effort to promote education about the Underground Railroad and coordinate preservation, the Network to Freedom Registry was established in 1998. The goals are to provide education to the public, and enable technical assistance for documentation and preservation of history. The registry also has created a network of historic sites an research with verifiable connection to the Underground Railroad.
The Nebraska team of a history teacher and four students traveled to Davenport Iowa last year to research a former slave who is buried in Oakdale Memorial Gardens. They believed he had escaped to freedom via the Underground Railroad. When they arrived, they discovered many more former slaves who had escaped to freedom in the same way. With the help of the cemetery, the Putnam Museum, and the Davenport Public Library, the students compiled histories on 11 former slaves and submitted the site for inclusion in the registry.
Since African Americans were seldom buried with headstones at that time, the finding is significant. It is unusual, and unexpected to have so many people who traveled through the Underground Railroad buried at one site in Iowa. The students and local organizations determined that the stories of all of these people and their families should not be lost, and are continuing to research their lives and history.