Let Freedom Reign
After Five Years, The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is Going Strong
John Pepper realizes the importance of history. “The youngsters are the nucleus of change,” says the retired CEO of Procter & Gamble and staunch supporter of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. “Change cannot be made if the history is unknown.”
Thanks to the efforts of Mr. Pepper and other hard-working supporters, the NURFC continues its mission to make that history known. On October 10, 2009, the institution, devoted to exploring the history of the Underground Railroad and to inspiring the pursuit of justice and freedom for all people, celebrated its fifth anniversary, commemorating its success by hosting a “Triumph of the Human Spirit” reception and dinner.
Members of the local community and celebrities enjoyed the landmark event, in which three “Everyday Freedom Heroes” and one “Legacy Everyday Freedom Hero” were honored for their dedication to freedom, commitment to community engagement, human rights and social justice.
The awardees were Cincinnati Reds owner and CEO Bob Castellini, long-time journalist and TV anchor Nick Clooney, and founder of the National CARES Mentoring Movement and former Essence editor Susan Taylor. Additionally, Christopher Schutzius accepted an award on behalf of his sister Margaret, who lost her life when her plane was shot down when returning to the US after serving in the Peace Corp in Chad.
The celebration of the present and plans for the future allowed the guests to revisit its beginnings, which date from August 23, 2004 when the museum opened steps from the banks of the Ohio River, the dividing line separating slave and free states in the decades leading to the Civil War. Housing slavery-era artifacts and both permanent and changing exhibits—including an original slave pen, a holding place for slaves awaiting auction—the Freedom Center tells the story of slavery and America’s struggle for freedom, while serving as a safe house to foster healing and restoration.
While the museum was still a concept, a diverse core group of citizens united to raise the necessary $110 million to start the institution. The mission was clear: to reveal stories about freedom’s heroes, from the era of the Underground Railroad to contemporary times, challenging and inspiring everyone to take courageous steps for freedom today. These founders and current Freedom Center leaders are passionately clear about why building and growing the Freedom Center is paramount.
Says Edwin Rigaud, the center’s founding president, “Our mission includes a worldwide call to action—to become a freedom conductor by respecting and accepting diversity.”
Donald Murphy, current CEO and President, believes the Freedom Center presents history in a life-changing manner. “The exhibits, Slave Pen, re-enactors and programs truly impact lives,” he says.
Marian Spencer, Cincinnati’s first African American councilwoman says, “These triumphant stories must be told nationally; they affect us all.”
Reverent Damon Lynch, Jr., presiding co-chair, says, “Slavery existed. You cannot wish it away; learn from it. The Freedom Center is a testimony of the human spirit’s resiliency—especially during adversities.”
Bernard Kinsey, avid collector of black historical art, explains, “The museum’s location pinpoints its vital importance. It is a national icon of freedom.”
Susan Taylor, editorial director of Essence magazine and founder of National Cares Mentoring Movement, passionately believes in the principle of giving back. “We stand on the shoulders of others,” she says. “To not acknowledge that disregards their efforts.”