CLYDE, Ohio (WTVG) - Flat land and sparse population -- Ohio in the 1800s was ideal for slaves escaping southern states to find safe haven.
Today, the directors of ODOT and the Ohio Turnpike joined Governor Mike DeWine in commemorating the state's prominent role in the Underground Railroad. The new marker at Commodore Perry Plaza north of Clyde is one of four to be installed along the Turnpike.
"It's very prominently displayed," Gov. DeWine said, "and there will be people from all over the country who now will understand Ohio's role in the Underground Railroad. It's important we continue to share these stories of persistence and courage with future generations."
ODOT director Jack Marchbanks said we should recognize how people from all walks of life contributed to the journey, shrouded in secrecy by design. "You have Presbyterians, Quakers, free blacks -- all working together to help captive slaves escape to freedom."
Cathy Nelson, founder of the Friends of Freedom Society, goes a step further: "The history of the Underground Railroad and Ohio's role in that endeavor remains a source of inspiration, reminding us who we were, who we are, and who we can be. It was the nation's first Civil Rights Movement."
Of the estimated 4 million slaves in the country at the time, only about 100,000 ultimately escaped bondage -- 40,000 through the Buckeye State.
"That lets you know how important Ohio was in terms of being an effective network for those who were seeking freedom," Marchbanks said, "those brave men, women and children."
The new markers each carry a local story -- in Clyde's case, a local farmer who helped an escaped slave woman and her child find shelter. While many freedom seekers continued on to Canada, that woman -- Lizzie Anderson -- would live and work in Clyde until her passing nearly 50 years later.
"What these kinds of markers present to people," Marchbanks said, "is an opportunity to remember and inform themselves in the present, of the greatness that Americans can accomplish when they put their minds to it."
Next time you find yourself stopping off at one of those service plazas, take some time to learn more about Ohio's part in, as the markers state, "one of America's greatest social, moral and humanitarian endeavors."