GHF’s African American Heritage Committee will present “The Making of the Underground Railroad” on Wednesday, June 15 from 8:30 a.m. to noon at the historic 1838 Menard House and Grounds, 1605 33rd Street. This program will feature musical performances, presentations on key figures of the Underground Railroad and a coded quilts exhibit. Students aged 6 through 18 are welcomed for free and must be accompanies by an adult chaperone. Space is limited and reservations are required by calling Jami Durham at 409-765-3453 or emailing jami.durham@galvestonhistory.org. Sack lunches at the Menard Complex grounds are welcomed after the program concludes.

The event will start with performances by Mr. John Cooks, Director of Music at Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church and Holy Rosary Catholic Church and by Mrs. Sherman Batiste Boyer, Director of Music at Saint Augustine of Hippo Episcopal Church and the musician at Market Street Baptist Church.

UNDERGROUND RAILROAD HIGHLIGHTS

Texas Buffalo Soldiers – Presented by Lisa Reznicek and Allen Mack, Texas Parks and Wildlife Community Outreach Program

In 1866, the United States Congress formed two cavalry and four infantry regiments, calling upon African American men to fill the new units. One of these units arrived in Texas in 1867, where they set up camp in forts along the frontier in support of the westward expansion of the United States. These men, known as Buffalo Soldiers, fought in the Spanish-American War and both World Wars before the units were disbanded in 1948.

Coded Quilts

Before, and during, the American Civil War, messages in the form of quilt patterns helped communicate with fugitive slaves trying to escape the bonds of captivity. Because most slaves were unable to read or write, the quilt patterns guided them to safe shelter, or warned them of danger, as they made their way along the Underground Railroad to freedom.

Presentation of two new characters, Bettie Clemons and William Menard Thomas

Bettie Clemons was a fugitive slave from a plantation in Mobile, Alabama. After learning     that her master planned to take her new born baby girl away, Bettie took the child and left, stowing away on a ship. She disembarked in Galveston where she managed to blend in with the African American population. Some of her descendants still claim Galveston as their home today.

William Menard Thomas was a descendant of slaves owned by Galveston’s founder, Michel Brananour Menard. Born and raised in Galveston, Thomas became a police officer in 1918, rising to the rank of sergeant by 1922. He was active in his church, Avenue L Baptist Church, where a window named in his honor remains today.

OTHER CHARACTERS PORTRAYED INCLUDE

Richard Nelson – Richard Nelson was an African American newspaper publisher and political leader. He moved to Galveston in 1866 where he was elected Galveston County Justice of the Peace in1870. In 1873, Nelson established the Galveston Spectator, the first newspaper in Texas to be owned, edited and published by a black man.

Lavenia Bell – Lavenia Bell was a fugitive from slavery who trekked from a Texas plantation to Rouses Point, New York, in search of freedom in Canada. Bell was born free in Washington, but as a baby she was stolen by slave owner, Tom Watson, and taken to Texas. She attempted to escape many times and failed twice before following the North Star to New York.

Robert Smalls – Hired to work on a Confederate ship, Robert Smalls soon learned how to navigate and travel the waters. While the ship’s captain and his men were away, Smalls took command of the ship with his family and friends onboard and turned it over to the United States Army. In 2004, a United States naval vessel was named in his honor.

Henry “Box” Brown – Mr. Brown was a Virginia slave who escaped to freedom by shipping himself in a box to Mr. William Still, a Philadelphia abolitionist. Born into slavery in 1816, Brown said he received a “heavenly vision” to “mail himself to a place where there are no slaves” after his master sold his wife and children to a different slave owner.

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