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Celebrate the legacy of freedom in Bellefonte

by on July 05, 2012 12:36 PM

BELLEFONTE — This week Americans are celebrating the birth of our nation and its promise of equality and freedom for all.

Historians, social scientists, and governments of all types know full well about the push to end slavery America. They also know that an end to global slavery is still a dream that is a long way from being realized.

Here in Centre County, there is much to be proud of when looking at the region’s legacy.

Bellefonte was the home to Andrew Gregg Curtain, the Pennsylvania Governor during the Civil War who is an underappreciated hero. There is also a long history of Bellefonte being an important stop on the Underground Railroad, a silent, clandestine network created to hide slaves running to freedom from those who would return them to bondage.

There was a strong anti-slavery sentiment in Bellefonte during the years before the Civil War, and many local residents were willing to help fugitive slaves make their ways to Canada. To this day, there are still secret rooms in the Victorian homes that make Bellefonte the special place it is, rooms that hid runaways. There were at least eight railroad “conductors” and safe houses located in Bellefonte.

The story of the Underground Railroad is at once compelling, heartbreaking and transcendent. It is magnificently told in the exhibits of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center along the banks of the Ohio River in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Divided into two major sections, the Freedom Center depicts the stories of the brave men and women who not only stood for the abolition of slavery in America, but also helped thousands of slaves make it to safety.

Sadly, it’s large third floor exhibit depicts contemporary slavery. Few people know that there are more slaves today than at any time in the history of the earth. 27 million people are currently in bondage with more sold each day, whether it is for domestic servitude or sexual perversion.

Today’s slaves are almost invisible, according to the NURFC. Increasingly, slaves are children who are bought and sold like toys. Many factors contribute to this frightening fact, including poverty, crime, corruption, abuse and promises of jobs that turn into servitude or prostitution.

A visit to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is worth the trip. There you’ll hear about the slave who mailed himself in a two foot square box from the Carolinas to Philadelphia. You’ll hear about Peter Still, the slave who bought himself.

You’ll also learn about the Haitian children who are today a major export of that very poor nation.

The NURFC is keeping alive the many interesting people who fought for American freedom while providing hope for those who are the slaves of the modern world.

Harry is a correspondent for the Gazette.
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