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Underground Railroad is topic of historical society speech

May 10, 2002|BY RICHARD F. BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Behind Edward Henicle's 18th century farmhouse on Amsterdam Road is Needy's Cave, a deep hole carved by nature into a rocky hillside with three dark chambers, one with a bubbling spring.

It made a perfect hiding place for runaway slaves before and during the Civil War, a speaker for the Pennsylvania Humanities Council told 70 people, mostly Waynesboro Historical Society members, assembled for dinner Thursday night at the Waynesboro Country Club.

"Pennsylvania's Crossroads: The Underground Railroad and the Civil War," was the topic of remarks by Nilgun Anadolu Okur, who teaches African-American history at Temple University in Philadelphia. She earned her doctorate at Hacettepe University in Turkey.

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Okur said she visited Needy's cave two years ago.

The Waynesboro area, including Quincy Township and the Borough of Mont Alto, are just north of the Mason-Dixon Line in southern Franklin County, Pa. Its location made it a safe route for fugitive slaves who escaped from Maryland and Virginia, she said.

The runaways found friends and safety in the Mennonite, Quaker and Presbyterian families who lived in the area, Okur said.

"Those families opened their doors to the fugitives and offered them confidence and hope," Okur said.

Much of the history of the Underground Railroad, as the network of secret routes, safe houses and hiding places for fugitive slaves was called, is speculation, Okur said. There is little in writing about the people who hid slaves from the bounty hunters who pursued them, she said.

"Bounty hunters earned $500 for every slave they brought back to their owners," she said.

Okur began her presentation by walking into the dining room following dinner wearing simple garb and carrying a lantern.

"This is a symbol of freedom," she said, waving the lantern.

Philadelphia and northeastern Pennsylvania were also hubs on the Underground Railway, she said.

The songs sung by slaves like "Go Down Moses" and Wade in the Water" showed their longing for freedom, Okur said.

"Follow the Drinking Gourd," still sung today in folk circles, was taken as advice given to fugitives on their way north.

Since most slaves could not read, they were told to "follow the drinking gourd," the Big Dipper in the night sky whose handle points to the North Star.

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