What is the Underground Railroad Freedom Center?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 January 2020
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The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is a museum in Cincinnati, Ohio, which is dedicated to preserving the history of slavery in the United States. The museum also has rotating displays on modern slavery issues. The goal of the museum is to stimulate thought and discussion on the issues of freedom, slavery, and heroism. Visitors can enter the museum on Tuesday through Sunday between 11:00 AM and 5:00 PM, and special events are sometimes held after hours as well.

This museum is one among a group of modern museums which emerged in the late 1990s which are sometimes collectively called “museums of conscience.” Rather than simply presenting historical information, these museums challenge visitors into thinking about serious issues and historical events. The Underground Railroad Freedom Center has a number of interactive displays which stimulate visitors into thinking about slavery and the conditions which made slavery possible, as well as the heroes who worked to put an end to slavery.

The museum is named for the Underground Railroad, a secret network of abolitionists who helped escaped slaves reach safety. These individuals felt so strongly about slavery that they were willing to risk their lives and homes to help escaped slaves. Slaves might not necessarily have learned the names of the people who helped them, but when they reached freedom in Canada or a free state, they gave thanks for all of the people who assisted them along the way, and the Underground Railroad Freedom Center commemorates these acts of courage.


The prize exhibit of the Underground Railroad Freedom Center is a slave pen from the 1830s. Slave pens were used to keep slaves confined until they could be sold or moved; the model on display at the museum is two stories, with an upper story for the purpose of confining male slaves, and a lower story for women. Visitors to the museum are often sobered by the sight of this structure, which features grim reminders of its purpose like small, barred windows and shackles bolted to the walls.

The Underground Railroad Freedom Center also has a theater which shows films related to slavery, and it has a number of artifacts on display along with informational displays. Although the museum references the heroes of the Underground Railroad in its name, issues of modern slavery are just as heavily emphasized at the facility. Visitors can see films about abolitionists working today all over the world put an end to slavery, and they can learn more about what they do to help as individuals.


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