February 21, 2024

Black History Exhibit Through March 16 @ St. Clement’s

The traveling national exhibit, Through Darkness to Light: Photographs Along the Underground Railroad, will be on display at the St. Clement’s Island Museum starting January 28 and running through March 16, 2024.

The St. Clement’s Island Museum is open daily from 10am to 5pm. Admission prices and other information are available here.

Through Darkness to Light: Photographs Along the Underground Railroad

They left during the middle of the night — often carrying little more than the knowledge that moss grows on the north side of trees. An estimated 100,000 slaves between 1830 and the end of the Civil War in 1865 chose to embark on this journey in search of freedom. They moved in constant fear of being killed or recaptured, returned, and beaten as an example of what would happen to others who might choose to run. Under the cover of darkness, “fugitives” traveled roughly twenty miles each night, traversing rugged terrain while enduring all the hardships that Mother Nature could bring to bear. Occasionally, they were guided from one secret, safe location to the next by an ever- changing, clandestine group known as the Underground Railroad. Many consider the Underground Railroad to be the first great freedom movement in the Americas and the first time when people of different races and faiths worked together in harmony for freedom and justice.

Photographer Jeanine Michna-Bales has spent more than a decade meticulously researching “fugitive” slaves and the ways they escaped to freedom. While the unnumbered routes of the Underground Railroad encompassed countless square miles, the path Michna-Bales documented encompasses roughly 2,000 miles and is based on actual sites, cities, and places that freedom-seekers passed through during their journey.

Whether they were slaves trying to escape or free blacks and whites trying to help, both sides risked everything for the cause of freedom. From the cotton plantations south of Natchitoches, Louisiana, all the way north to the Canadian border, this series of photographs by Michna-Bales helps us imagine what the long road to freedom may have looked like as seen through the eyes of one of those who made this epic journey.

While many books have been written on the subject, there is very little visual documentation of the Underground Railroad because of its secretive nature. Today, as America becomes more and more diverse, Michna-Bales believes that an understanding of the experience—and those who lived through it—is more relevant than ever. The Underground Railroad united people from different races, genders, social levels, religions, and regions in a common and worthwhile cause. It was the first civil rights movement within America. Through Darkness to Light: Photographs Along the Underground Railroad encourages visitors to learn more, ask questions and open a dialogue on the subject, and in the end, provide a better understanding of our origins.

This exhibition features beautifully dramatic color photographs, ephemera and narratives that together tell the story of the Underground Railroad. The author is working with Princeton Architectural Press to prepare a publication that will combine eighty-two original photographs and text with a diverse sampling of related ephemera.

The St. Mary’s County Museum Division is one of many organizations from around the country that will display the exhibit and has waited several years to be able to bring it to St. Mary’s County, which has four sites on the National Park Service’s National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Trail, including the Old Jail Museum.

This exhibition was organized by ExhibitsUSA, a program of Mid-America Arts Alliance.

Leave A Comment