ROANOKE BUZZ: Freedom Roads and the Roanoke River

Published 8:07 pm Monday, June 25, 2018

I felt fortunate to be one of twenty-five folks attending a Freedom Roads Educator Training just a few days ago. For those who were not in attendance – this was an opportunity to learn more about our own regional story as it relates to North Carolina’s Underground Railroad history.

A diverse group—all interested in learning more about the Underground Railroad— gathered for this training. Attendees included teachers, state parks staff, state historic site staff, US Fish & Wildlife Service and Roanoke River Partners staff, regional volunteers, a local media coordinator, and a graduate intern.

This informative training was brought to the northeast region by staff from our NC African American Heritage Commission in Raleigh. The Halifax State Historic Site was the host site and a partner in making this training possible. Attendees learned about the National Network to Freedom and the North Carolina Freedom Roads Projects as well as related regional initiatives.

Training topics included: what is “freedom seeking”; myths about the Underground Railroad; and slavery and freedom seeking in Halifax County.

Several local projects were featured. Ryan Newsome, from the Roanoke Canal Museum & Trail, described the museum’s Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Exhibit and invited attendees to visit.

A new regional project to create and promote a Roanoke River Underground Railroad Trail was also shared. This project, which will connect the river’s natural and cultural assets, is being developed through a partnership between Roanoke River Partners, NC Wildlife Commission and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. A pending grant is earmarked to support the development of maps, signage, educational materials and community engagement in the implementation of this project.

An overview of the work being done by the Halifax County Underground Railroad Steering Committee was outlined by chairman, Gary Grant. Among other activities, this committee is currently engaged in conducting oral history interviews with local seniors who have personal stories relative to freedom seeking and the Underground Railroad. Ten interviews have been completed and more are planned.

Local residents, eighty-five years old or older, who have family stories to tell, are encouraged to contact Mr. Grant or other committee members to be interviewed for this project. For more information, contact Gary Grant at (252) 826-3244.

The final activity of the day was a Walking Tour of the Historic Halifax Site with noted points of interest and signage related to the Underground Railroad and the African American experience in Halifax. The tour, guided by site manager, Carl Burke, ended by the Roanoke River at the final Underground Railroad wayside sign. Here the group paused to reflect and join together in a song reminiscent of the freedom seeker’s struggle. Those gathered commented on how moving the shared experience was.

This training was just one of the opportunities for regional growth made possible by collaborating partners. If you are interested in learning more about efforts to develop our Roanoke River Underground Railroad story, please contact me through my contact info found below.

There is a role for each of us to play in developing partnerships that can transform our rural communities in ways that create new enterprise and promise. What can you bring to the process?

Community interest, comment and support are very much needed and are always welcome.

Carol Jones Shields is the Executive Director of Roanoke River Partners, Inc. You can contact her at (252) 798-3920 or You can learn more about Roanoke River Partners at