OUS highlights Underground Railroad

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 3, 2008

Ohio University Southern is planning events and classes to show how this area was a part of the Underground Railroad that slaves took on their way to freedom.

Bob Culp, an OUS professor who also runs the university’s Nature Center at Lake Vesuvius, said the area along the Ohio River was prominent in the Underground Railroad and the school wants to show that piece of fading history.

While the details are being worked out, he said it will be a big event.

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“There are about eight people who will be a part of it,” Culp said, adding they want to have classes available to the public as well as students.

OUS professor Steve Call will be teaching a history class as well, doing tour of Underground Railroad sites.

Culp will be teaching a class on the iron furnaces that were the engine of the area’s economy.

“The iron furnaces and Lawrence County played a pretty important part,” Culp said. “Many of the ironmasters were given credit for assisting the Underground Railroad. We aren’t sure what the reason was. But they were involved.”

And at least one Ironton founding father was a prominent abolitionist. John Campbell owned the Ironton Railroad line and it had carts with false bottoms that slaves hid in until they got to the Jackson County line.

“It is going to be a teaching across the curriculum classes,” Call said of the classes and programs, adding it would deal with everything from slavery to the culture of the time.

OUS history instructor Bob Leith will be doing a project of the history of the area, and Mike Millay, an associate biology professor, will be doing one on edible plants.

So how does edible plants tie into the Underground Railroad?

“If you were on the Underground Railroad, you had to live off the land,” Culp explained. “Edible plants played a very important part.”

Already planned is a performance about Abraham Lincoln. Call said they are getting one of the premier Lincoln portrayers, Jim Getty, to perform.

On, Sept. 21 Getty will read the Emancipation Proclamation near one of the old iron furnaces and Sept. 22, he will be talking to students at the Lawrence County Courthouse.

Call said there would be several Education on Location trips, including Old Washington where Harriet Beecher Stowe saw a slave auction and was inspired to write “Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Maysville, Ky. where there is an underground railroad museum and to Ripley to freed slave John Parker’s house.

Culp and the other teachers will have the classes in the fall quarter.

“It will probably run during the quarter, it won’t be all at the same time,” he said.

Culp said he is raising money for the various events and is applying for grants right now.

“We are working on it,” he said.

Culp said it is matter of making sure the area’s past is not forgotten.

“We want to raise the level of awareness of the history of the area,” he said. “Not a lot of people are familiar with the history. I am always surprised by the number of students who don’t know what has gone on in this county.”