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SharePrint Archives and History Tuesday Lecture: The Underground Railroad

March 03, 2015

Charleston, Kanawha

On Tuesday, March 3, 2015, Chris Saunders will discuss “The Underground Railroad” in the Archives and History Library of the Culture Center in Charleston. The program will begin at 6:00 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

The State of Ohio had more area bordering slave states than any other state in the Union. Lawrence County, the southernmost county in Ohio, bordered the slave states of Virginia and Kentucky. Countless enslaved African Americans first tasted freedom after crossing the Ohio River into Burlington and Ironton, Ohio. Using primary sources, Chris Saunders will identify and give biographical sketches of the individuals of various ethnicities and religious beliefs who worked together in an informal network of safe houses and escape routes to help enslaved African Americans to freedom in the northern states and Canada.

Chris Saunders is a graduate of Ohio University and a local historian who has spent the past 16 years researching Civil War-era history in the tri-state area. During the past five years, his primary focus has been the local Underground Railroad. He has identified more than 70 local Underground Railroad conductors and is currently in the process of compiling brief biographies of each.

In 2011, Saunders was contacted by PBS to help research the family history of nine-time Grammy winning R&B singer John Legend for the show Finding Your Roots, which led him to the Polley family, who after legally obtaining their freedom were kidnapped and held captive in Wayne County, Virginia. After the show aired, his research helped obtain a retroactive finding of freedom for the Polley children in the Wayne County (West Virginia) Circuit Court after 162 years, a legal conclusion the longest active fugitive slave case in U.S. history.

Saunders is the co-author of the article “Burlington 37 Cemetery” in Tri-State Living (2012). For the past five years, he has portrayed Underground Railroad conductor Jim Ditcher in the Ironton Woodland Cemetery Ghost Walk. He also has made presentations to local schools, historical societies, and other groups. Saunders served as a trustee for the Lawrence County Historical Society, 2013-2014, and provides tours to individuals, schools and civic groups.

On March 3, the library will close at 5:00 p.m. and reopen at 5:45 p.m. for participants only. For additional information, contact the Archives and History Library at (304) 558-0230.

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