At America’s oldest black church, in Savannah, Georgia, there are holes in the floor. Story has it that these were air holes for runaway slaves who were hidden below the sanctuary of the First African Baptist Church. This was one of the first stops on the Underground Railroad.
And near my home, in Westbury, Long Island, there are two houses that allegedly were northern stops on the same transit system taking slaves to freedom further north. Although slavery was outlawed in New York, runaways were not safe, as the Fugitive Slave Law allowed runaways, wherever they were in the United States, to be returned to their aggrieved “owners.”
The Underground Railroad is part of America’s sad history of oppression. Most stops along the way go unmarked and many never had been known but to a few.
This piece of American history comes to mind by a story halfway around the world. Chen Guangchen’s escape to freedom in China is breathtaking. Forty-year-old Chen is a human rights activist and self-taught lawyer who served four years in prison on bogus charges because he publicly accused the government of compulsory sterilizations and forced abortions. After his release, he was placed under house arrest. Those who tried to visit Chen were turned away or beaten.