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Roanoke Buzz: Celebrating International Underground Railroad Month

Did you know that September is International Underground Railroad Month? If not, no worries— I must admit, I just discovered it myself.

As it turns out, last year, the governor of Maryland—the home state of Harriet Tubman– proclaimed September 2019 as the first International Underground Railroad Month.

Here we are a year later, learning about this designation and wanting to share this information with our Roanoke River communities.

International Underground Railroad Month provides us an opportunity to remember the brave men, women, and children who made a dangerous journey on the Underground Railroad—some of them right here along the Roanoke River.

It also provides the unique opportunity to partner with the National Park Service to offer the chance to “visit” the Roanoke River via a virtual experience. On-line visitors can view elements of our Roanoke River Underground Railroad Trail on both our Roanoke River Partners Instagram and Facebook pages to learn more about our regional history. Additionally, they can download a special passport stamp confirming they have participated in this virtual Network to Freedom on-line experience.

We are hopeful that in addition to strengthening our partnership with the National Network to Freedom, this virtual experience will open the door for those interested in this history to make plans to actually visit our river and our river communities at a later date.

Over the past several years as we have been learning more about the Roanoke River’s Underground Railroad history, it has occurred to me that there are stretches along the river that likely remain much as they would have been when freedom seekers sought refuge along our river corridor.

With this being the case, we have realized that our Roanoke River Paddle Trail offers visitors the unique opportunity to experience remote parts of the river—places close to those where freedom seekers may have found sanctuary.

Here on the Roanoke—locals and visitors alike—have the opportunity to literally paddle through history.

As many of you know by now, there are a number of historic sites along our river corridor designated as a part of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. With the development of our emerging Roanoke River Underground Railroad Trail—we are working with regional partners to connect designated sites that are a part of this special history.

In addition to our partnership with the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, we are grateful to our partners with US Fish and Wildlife Service, NC Wildlife Resources Commission, and the NC African American Heritage Commission along with some of our state sites for their collaboration on this regional development. We are also grateful for a Ribbon of Hope Grant from the NC GlaxoSmithKline Foundation that has supported this initiative.

During the month of September we hope that you will join us in celebrating by taking some time to “visit” the Roanoke and other points along the National Network to Freedom Trail through the links provided below.

More about the virtual experiences offered by National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom can be found at https://americasnationalparks.org/network-to-freedom-virtual-cancellations/. Links to our virtual Roanoke River experience can be found at https://www.instagram.com/roanokeriverpartners/ or https://www.facebook.com/RoanokeRiverPartners.

By all means, come explore this important Roanoke River history virtually, or in person, sometime soon!

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