Spreading the word across the pond-Underground Railroad Museum goes international

Published 7:42 pm Monday, September 13, 2021

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I was recently interviewed by the Guardian Newspaper and The BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), both news service outlets in Great Britain. The purpose of the interviews was to parallel the story of The Underground Railroad movie drama series being aired on Amazon Prime Video to the actual history of the Underground Railroad. They wanted to do a news feature on the series and wanted to contact an organization or museum here in the U. S. that told the true story of the underground railroad.

Both news outlets reached out to me as the Co-founder of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum as ours is the only museum in North Carolina totally dedicated to telling the story of the underground railroad. They also wanted to know how and why it functioned and why it was successful.

In one interview I was called ‘the Black historian/raconteur (a raconteur is a story teller) of Washington NC and the underground railroad’ by one of the interviewers. While I appreciate the title, it’s one worthy of so many others who have come long before me.

While I have shared 300 years of stories about Black history here in Washington and Beaufort County for more than 10 years on walking tours, presentations and classes, I take no credit for the legacy of those who have shared oral stories with me through many generations.  They are the ones who have passed down the most amazing pieces of local history. I am just the one blessed to research and verify the stories and have the opportunity to share them in more outlets and larger venues.  The most precious to me is Washington’s role on the underground railroad.

Underground Railroad history is simply the story of all kinds of people working together, a network knitted together in sacrifice and mercy to help enslaved people in their quest for freedom.

While the underground railroad is vague to some, and a myth to others, the history we share at the museum showcases the efforts of so many people here in the greater Washington area.  Blacks, whites, Native Americans and immigrants chose to honor the lives of enslaved people, and at times, sacrificed their own and the security of their families and businesses.

The narratives we share also highlights the genius, creativity and tenacity of the enslaved to affect their own freedom.

A three mile stretch of Washington’s Pamlico-Tar River has been awarded a National Park Service-Underground Railroad-Network to Freedom designation site.  It is because the Port of Washington was vital to those seeking freedom aboard ships.  The museum has been awarded a National Park Service-Underground Railroad-Network To freedom facility designation.  Visitors have come to the museum from all fifty states and 37 countries.

Washington has history for everyone, and through the lens of its unique history, everyone can see themselves. Taking ownership of the unique history of its people, communities, and stories helps all residents learn of heritages and cultures we can all appreciate.

The accomplishments of all people are ready for the learning and sharing. Whether you are standing in line at the grocery store, seated in a barbershop, at the dog park, watching a little league game, dance rehearsal, or taking a historical walking tour on the waterfront, there are raconteurs everywhere, ready to share the rich, bountiful history of Washington and Beaufort County.


Leesa Jones is a Washington native and the Director and Co-founder of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum.