Escape to the promised land

During Black History Month visit the Underground Railroad sites in Buffalo-Niagara used by fugitive slaves

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Published in Hamilton Spectator in February 2017

She's the most celebrated face of the Underground Railroad - and it's a face destined to become even more famous since the U.S. Treasury announced that Harriet Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill.

Known as the "Moses of her people," Tubman, an escaped slave from Maryland, guided other fugitives to freedom in Canada across a wooden suspension bridge in Niagara Falls, often by hiding them in fruit wagons and railroad cattle cars.

Before the construction of the bridge in 1848, the only option for runaway slaves was to cross the Niagara River by rowboat under the cover of night or by climbing aboard ferries and steamboats operated by sympathetic captains.

Some risked their lives by swimming across the river at its calmer points or clung to pieces of wood in a desperate attempt to make it to Canada, considered the Promised Land.

Buffalo-Niagara was a hotbed of Underground Railroad activity from the early 1800s until 1865 when the Civil War outlawed slavery. (Canada had already banned the importing of slaves back in 1793.)

February's Black History Month is an ideal time to visit some of the significant sites of this network of secret routes, safe houses and hiding places that represented the first racially-integrated U.S. civil rights movement in which blacks and whites worked together to actively oppose the federal laws that condoned slavery.

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