Documentary tells the story of the underground railroad


February 20th, 2012 by Ric Hanson

A new documentary film and book tells the story of the Underground Railroad which slaves followed through Iowa to find freedom in the mid-1800s. Filmmaker Gary Jenkins of Kansas City says he was reluctant to tell the story until a friend and a descendant of a slave urged him to see the remains of an underground railroad stop in Quindaro, Kansas. Jenkins says he saw where runaway slaves hid in cellars, wells and secret rooms. “I didn’t really want to do it and one day I rode my motorcycle over to Quindaro and found it and walked down in and looked at the ruins,” Jenkins says. “I was inspired standing there in the actual place where I knew Jimmy’s great-grandfather, George Washington, had come across the frozen Missouri River, had gotten help, got into the Union Army and lived out a full life.” That stretch of the Underground Railroad along the Missouri-Kansas border was considered one of the most dangerous escape routes. To reach Canada, freedom seekers had to dodge professional slave catchers, federal marshals, and Missouri slave holders. Jenkins says it was a region-wide effort.

He says, “They had this cadre, this organized group of Kansans and Iowans and Nebraskans who banded together and helped people escaping out of Missouri and got them on this kind of complicated, over a-thousand mile journey to at least Chicago where there was a large free black population, and some of them went around to Ontario, Canada, through Detroit.” The escape routes began along the Missouri/Kansas border, north to Nebraska City, Nebraska, east across the Missouri River through Tabor, Iowa, then east into Illinois and north to Chicago. The 75-minute documentary film is called: “Freedom Seekers: Stories from the Western Underground Railroad.” It premiered last week in Kansas City. The companion book is “John Brown and the Last Train.”

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(by Matt Kelley/Radio Iowa)