“Maryland is the most powerful Underground Railroad storytelling destination in the world,” says Marci Ross of the Maryland Department of Commerce Office of Tourism.
A network of secret routes and safe houses used by enslaved African Americans to escape into free states and Canada, the Underground Railroad did not have a headquarters. Locations were communicated only by word of mouth, making the process of pinpointing those locations difficult.
“These places were designed to be hidden,” says Jessica Feldt, Preservation Initiatives Manager with Preservation Maryland. “It’s hard to find facts. We are working to separate out facts from myth.”
Maryland is home to more Network to Freedom sites than any other state—there are currently 51 locations mapped—and organizations are teaming up to locate, verify and map more sites along the Underground Railroad.
“Maryland is home to the Underground Railroad Freedom Five—Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, the family of Willian Still, Josiah Henson and John Brown,” Ross says. “It’s also where you’ll find the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, which was designated one of the best driving tours in the nation—and the Frederick Douglass Driving Tour, designated one of the top 10 driving tours by the UK’s Daily Mail. The national headquarters of the National Park Service’s National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program is in our state, as is the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State and National Parks and the Frederick Douglass Park on the Tuckahoe.”
The state launched its first statewide Underground Railroad map-guide in 2004, a collaboration between the Maryland Office of Tourism Development, the National Park Service’s National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program and Marylanders who entered their Underground Railroad sites, programs and facilities into the network.
The first International Underground Railroad Month was celebrated in Maryland in September 2019 and a new partnership with Preservation Maryland further spotlights Maryland’s role in the freedom effort. An annual program through Preservation Maryland, the Six-to-Fix Program highlights six projects across the state and takes appropriate direct action to protect the historic sites.
“We wanted to inspire more Network to Freedom nominations so we utilized the Six-to-Fix partnership to call attention to the opportunity,” Ross says. “Once a site has been designated by the Network to Freedom program, it is then authenticated and has greater leverage in the marketplace plus a better opportunity to be preserved.”
Preservation Maryland is working with the Office of Tourism Development, the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture and local partners on the effort.
“One of the things we have learned through the collective research and documentation is that there were more successful self-liberations from Maryland than any other state in the country,” Ross says. “Truly, every nomination brings forward a new story to tell.”
And those stories will be heard beyond Maryland.
Go to VisitMaryland.org/network-to-freedom to find the current mapped network or order a printed guide for the Tubman Byway, Douglass driving tour or Statewide Network to Freedom by calling 877-209-5883.