Wisconsin recognizes September as International Underground Railroad Month

MADISON, Wis. (September 17, 2020) – Travel Wisconsin is joining several states in celebrating September as International Underground Railroad Month by highlighting the state’s rich abolitionist history and Wisconsin’s role in helping freedom seekers on their secret journey.

During slavery, the Underground Railroad was a vast network of people who helped slaves escape to the North, including Wisconsin and Canada. Although Wisconsin was considered a national leader in antislavery sentiment and many people escaped to the state, that did not mean freedom seekers were free when they arrived.

Because United States law required captured freedom seekers to be returned, when Joshua Glover escaped from St. Louis, Missouri to Racine, Wisconsin, he was locked up in the Milwaukee County jail. However, after his capture, more than 5,000 Wisconsinites assisted with breaking him out of jail and escaping to Canada. This event and the changing public opinion across the state led to Wisconsin being the only state to openly defy the Fugitive Slave Law.

“Wisconsin’s role in the Underground Railroad story is a rich and important part of our nation’s journey from slavery to civil rights,” said Gov. Tony Evers, who proclaimed September Underground Railroad Month in Wisconsin. “While we honor the brave heroes of our past, we also look to the future and the work that still needs to be done in the current social justice and reform movement to truly achieve equality.”

Maryland, the birth state of Harriett Tubman, initiated International Underground Railroad month in 2019. Tubman, who escaped, helped more than 300 people get to freedom as “conductor” of the Underground Railroad. When Maryland sought participation from other states and provinces, Wisconsin enthusiastically joined the movement. International Underground Railroad Month provides an opportunity for a world-wide open dialogue on the hard-fought struggles for freedom throughout our history and our present.

“Learning about the bravery and great risks that those who escaped slavery took and the courageous Wisconsinites who helped people along their journey to freedom is an incredible, humbling experience. The stories of these important actions warrant a larger platform to be told,” said Department of Tourism Secretary-designee Sara Meaney. “By partnering with leaders who have played an active role in preserving Wisconsin’s Underground Railroad history, we’re commemorating all those involved and sharing this piece of history with travelers from near and far.”

Underground Railroad stories and resources exist in many places around the state including the Milton House, located in Milton, Wisconsin, which serves as Wisconsin’s connection to the freedom trail. As the only remaining authenticated stop on the Underground Railroad in Wisconsin, the Milton House is open for tours. It offers visitors the rare opportunity to walk the same underground tunnel to a secret room in which freedom seekers hid. 

Travel Wisconsin is working with local leaders to connect the places and experiences that mark this journey, and the communities and the people who continue to lead and learn through our journey today.

"It's great that Wisconsin recognizes the state's Underground Railroad and its significant role in our African American history. This is the only state that publicly defied the Fugitive Slave Law, thanks to a massive outcry of Wisconsin citizens," said Clayborn Benson III, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Black Historical Society/Museum.

Governor Evers’ proclamation marks the beginning of an ongoing initiative by Travel Wisconsin to highlight Wisconsin’s history in the civil rights movement. 

Visit TravelWisconsin.com to learn more about Wisconsin’s connection to the Underground Railroad and the historic sites where leaders and change agents have contributed positively to the civil rights movement.