National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

50 E Freedom Way
Cincinnati , OH 43202

513-333-7500   |
Open Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Adult General Admission: $15, see website for discounts

The Struggle for Freedom: Past and Present

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center’s mission centers around showcasing the history of the underground railroad, starting relevant conversations, and providing educational opportunities to visitors of all ages about slavery and its lasting effects in a historical context and in its modern forms.

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center interprets and presents the stories of the underground railroad and the continued struggle for global freedom today. Its home along the banks of the Ohio River in Cincinnati honors southern Ohio’s past as a hotbed for abolitionist and Underground Railroad activity. and nineteenth centuries.

Cincinnati sits in what was known as the borderlands – regions that bordered slave states in the south. Southern Ohio was an active region for Underground Railroad activity because of its proximity to Kentucky and Virginia. Fugitive slaves escaping north would either settle in free states, like Ohio, or attempt to travel to Canada. The Fugitive Slave Laws, which were enacted as early as 1793, required that runaway slaves be returned to their owners; those who escaped to live in free states were not legally released from bondage. However, these laws did not apply outside of US territory, which is why Canada was known among those enslaved and along the Underground Railroad as the “Promised Land." A fugitive slave’s path to true freedom was daunting and life-threatening. Ohio had Underground Railroad sites throughout the state, but mixed in among abolitionists were pro-slavery supporters, whose beliefs ranged across the spectrum from sympathizers to harsh advocates. Once a runaway slave made it across the Ohio River, the next leg of his or her journey required travel across the entire length of the state, from the southern border to the shores of Lake Erie, without being caught and sent back to a life of servitude. Some runaway slaves did attempt to settle in northern states disguised as free men and women, while others settled among Native American populations, risking the possibility of being caught and returned to bondage.

The stories of the Underground Railroad are those of survival, perseverance, and continued relevance. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center connects the history of slavery and those who played a role along the underground railroad to agents of change against global oppression.

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Notes for Travelers

The museum sits on the banks of the Ohio River in downtown Cincinnati and offers a spectacular view of the Kentucky border on its opposite side. Along with interpreting stories and artifacts related to Underground Railroad activity before the Civil War, the National Underground Railroad Freedom center designs exhibits and programming about modern abolitionism and African American History beyond the Antebellum period. Its mission is to highlight stories about heroes of freedom, and it does so internally through interpretation, by way of their website, and by connecting with Underground Railroad historic sites, university collections, research centers, and other museums that focus on Underground Railroad history across the nation. More information about its Freedom Stations program is available on the museum website. One of the museum’s most notable programs is End Slavery Now, designed to educate and inspire people to help end modern slavery.

Additional Resources

Battle Cry for Freedom: The Civil War Era, James McPherson.

The Underground Railroad in Ohio, Henry Wilbur Siebert.