Underground Railroad Free Press
News & Views on the Underground Railroad • Vol. XVII, no. 94, March 2022
Published bimonthly since 2006, we bring together organizations and people interested in the historical and the contemporary Underground Railroad. Free Press is the home of Lynx, the central registry of contemporary Underground Railroad organizations; Datebook, the community's event calendar; and the Free Press Prizes awarded annually for leadership, preservation and advancement of knowledge, the community's highest honors. Please visit urrfreepress.com for more.
In This Issue
Next Monday, March 21
What happened starting in 1702?
1. Our Ukraine Connection
As Vladimir Putin—Europe's new Hitler—metastasizes through Ukraine's neighborhoods, hospitals, schools, town halls, churches, children, the elderly, and anything else before him in his scorched earth war of annihilation, let us as Americans be perfectly willing to pay seven bucks a gallon for gas so that we can squelch Putin's main flow of operating cash and do something to punish this jerk. Seven-dollar gas is new to Americans but most of the rest of the world has been paying that for decades. Andy Akers's take below on this says it better than we can.
Well said, Andy.
As in another article here, we don't know most of our thousands of subscribers beyond their email addresses but that much let's us know that we do have at least one subscriber with a Ukrainian email address. Ukrainian Free Press subscriber, whoever you are, your fellow subscribers and we here at Free Press hold you and yours in our thoughts and prayers. We hope that you and your loved ones have not been forced to flee on the world's newest Underground Railroad running from your country to your European Union neighbors to the west of you. May you and all of Ukraine very soon have peace again and be able to keep your freedom and independence.
As for Putin, he needs to be dead. Russian oligarchs and generals, find your backbones and get the job done. Now.
Before she died, Hortense Simmons served on the Free Press Panel of Judges that picked the winners of the three annual Free Press Prizes. Hortense was a long-time personal friend who lit up any room she walked into. As a child, she helped support her family as an itinerant crop picker. Along the way she earned a PhD and retired as Professor Emerita of English Literature and African American Studies at California State University. She became a double Fulbright Scholar, both times in Kyiv, Ukraine where she taught university students and officially monitored democratic elections.
Hortense was a vivacious part of my circle of friends and would stay with my wife and me on her way back from Ukraine to California. We still have a snazzy cherry seeder that she gave us. On her last trip back in 2011, she complained of feeling unusually tired. Seven months later she died of ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease.
If Hortense Simmons had lived, I know just what she would be doing right now. She would be in Kyiv doing everything she could to help. She was that kind of person.
Peter H. Michael
2. Common Ground on the Hill is a popular prize-winning program at McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland that promotes racial harmony through traditional music. Common Ground got its start in 1994 when musician and faculty member Walt Michael came back to his home state of Maryland full of a vision to create interracial harmony through the traditional arts, and he did just that.
The year-round program is centered on its summer Traditions Week that fills the college's empty dormitories with people of all ages who participate in Common Ground's wide variety of musical, traditional arts, and historical offerings. Want to learn to play the hammered dulcimer? Craft an Indian bone flute? Learn about the Underground Railroad routes nearby? Visit here for the inspiring Common Ground story.
Next Monday, March 21, Common Ground will present Scott Hancock of the Departments of History and Africana Studies at nearby Gettysburg College who will give a free Zoom presentation on “How the Underground Railroad and the Mason-Dixon Line Caused the Civil War.” Both McDaniel College and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, lie within a geographic stripe between the Appalachian Range to the west and slavery-sympathizing territory to the east that funneled Underground Railroad freedom seekers northward along a collection of routes that were the main path to freedom on the east coast. Once across the Mason-Dixon Line—the border between Maryland and Pennsylvania—into Pennsylvania, freedom seekers were in a free state.
Registration is required at firstname.lastname@example.org before March 22. A link to the presentation will then be sent to you. There is no charge to attend. The Zoom talk will begin at 7:30 pm (EST). You are welcome to invite others.
3, A Question for You from the Bahamas Most Free Press subscribers reside in the United States or Canada but we do have some in the Caribbean and Europe. We know most of our subscribers only as email addresses but we often receive emails from subscribers and get to know them a bit, and that is always pleasant.
Since our last issue we heard from Free Press subscriber Vera Chase, a writer who lives in the Bahamas. Ms. Chase is curious to know what connection may have existed between the Bahamas and the Underground Railroad in the United States. This stumped us so we told her that we would ask you.
If you are aware of any such connections, please let her and us know. If there is enough to go on, we'll write an article on it. Ms. Chase's email address is email@example.com and ours is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for anything that you are able to turn up.
4. New for Grade-schoolers The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) has launched a new digital-learning initiative providing a variety of learning activities designed to share African American history using the museum’s collection. The North Star: A Digital Journey of African American History website is designed for the discovery and creative use of the museum’s digital collections and tools by educators and students in grades 6 through 12. Visit https://nmaahc.si.edu/learn/digital-learning/north-star.
Says the museum's Candra Flanagan, “As a part of the Smithsonian’s powerful research complex, the museum is uniquely positioned to provide a variety of digital resources, educationally curated with an experienced eye on the benefits of using the collections and stories related to African American history that tell the American story in the classroom.”
The website gives students and educators access to more than 35 digital education curricula that share American history through the African American lens. The North Star digital journey exposes users to themes, people and moments in history, with units such as Slavery in Colonial America, the Civil War, the Black Arts Movement and the Modern Civil Rights Movement.
5. An Intercontinental Underground Railroad in the Early 1700s
Today when we think of the Underground Railroad, we envision the American version in which Black and White Americans helped enslaved freedom seekers fleeing north to freedom. But an underground railroad can involve any races. North Korean freedom seekers are assisted exclusively by other Asians, Mauritanians by other Africans, and today Ukrainians by other Europeans.
Now we learn that an underground railroad can be intercontinental, as three centuries ago there was one as such. Underground Railroad Free Press has come across a remarkable movement begun in 1702 that moved refugees fleeing religious persecution from Europe to America through a system that was an intercontinental version of an Underground Railroad.
Between 1702 and 1716, the Swiss humanitarian Frantz Ludwig Michel (1675-1720), who was the first to explore beyond the Atlantic coast, resettled thousands of European religious and war refugees to British America in six colonies that he had created for them.
The lasting legacy of the young foresighted adventurer is his opening a new continent, joining it to an older one, and moving thousands from one to the other, delivering them unto opportunity, religious freedom, and peace that they had not had where they were coming from.
Realizing this took a grand vision as broad as anyone's of his era, superior execution to pull it off, and the heart of a great humanitarian to drive it all. Vision, ability to deliver, and heart Frantz Ludwig Michel all had in large measure. He had all of that and was eastern America's first great explorer.
All in a decade, Michel would create an organization of refugee rescue and relocation on a scale never before conceived, create friendly American colonies to receive refugees, and arrange refugee transport to the distant new continent by a public-private partnership far ahead of its time. What he would create would take on a permanent life of its own in the eighteenth century and eventually evolve to become the United States Federal Refugee Resettlement Program very active today. Michel would devote the rest of his life as a humanitarian bettering—or outright saving—the lives of thousands of European religious and war refugees.
What he created would today be looked upon as a kind of intercontinental underground railroad, though its passengers were not enslaved people and its operation was not “underground.” This is one of the most under-told of American heroic stories.
The first biography of Frantz Ludwig Michel is now in the works. Authored by Free Press publisher Peter H. Michael, First Explorer comes out this spring. We'll keep you posted.