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WKU Cultural Excursion Provides Look at Underground Railroad

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BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (10/21/13) - Dr. Saundra Ardrey, head of WKU’s Department of Political Science, organized a cultural excursion fall break for the African Experience classes. For the past five years, the department has co-sponsored a trip with InternationalStudent Office and English as a Second Language International to provide a deeper understanding of African American history in the United States.

During an Oct. 12 trip, a group of students visited the Rankin House in Ripley, Ohio. (Photo by Olivia Murphy, 10th grade student at South Warren High School)

“The Political Science Department leads programs with both domestic and international students in order to promote the goal of internationalization across campus. These programs provide opportunities to integrate different student constituencies and foster discussion and cross-cultural analysis. Internationalization is not just study abroad, it is also curricula and co-curricula activities,” said Dr. Roger Murphy, Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science. “Furthermore, it provides a unique format for international students to integrate with Americans and discuss political and cultural topics that might be too sensitive in another setting. Topics such as the Underground Railroad invite both American and non-American students to not only deal with dark issues of the past but also examine such issues as freedom, democracy and economic exploitation in a current setting. International students are often surprised that museums and memorials are dedicated to negative aspects of American history and
culture, which is a starting point for further discussion and analysis. Finally, for all students, such programs are a lot of fun as well.”

On Oct. 12, Dr. Murphy led an excursion to Ohio to give 50 students a first-hand look at the history of the Underground Railroad (UGRR). The group left Bowling Green early on Saturday morning headed for the National UGRR Freedom Center in Cincinnati. The bus was transformed into a rolling classroom as Dr. Murphy explained the background of the UGGR and the role that the state of Kentucky played in it. The group learned that the UGRR is one of the most powerful and sustained multiracial human rights movement in world history. Kentucky was central to the history of the UGRR because of its northern limit, the Ohio River. The river represented a more than three hundred mile boundary between slavery and freedom. Despite myths regarding the “mildness” of Kentucky slavery, 600 to 800 enslaved African Americans escaped from or through Kentucky each year between 1810 and 1860.

The group arrived at the Freedom Center around 10 a.m. This $110 million facility stands as the nation’s newest monument to freedom. It brings to life the importance – and relevance – of struggles for freedom around the world and throughout history, including today. Made up of three buildings that symbolize the cornerstones of freedom – courage, cooperation and perseverance – the freedom center’s curving architecture reflects the winding river and the often-changing path to freedom. The story of freedom is woven through the heroic legacy of the Underground Railroad and the American struggle to abolish human enslavement and secure freedom for all people.

The next stop on the trip was The Rankin House, a National Historic Landmark, in Ripley, Ohio. Here, Dr. Murphy described the significance of the Rankin House. John Rankin, a Presbyterian minister and educator who devoted much of his life to the antislavery movement, moved from Kentucky to Ripley in 1822 and later built a house on Liberty Hill overlooking the town, the river and the Kentucky shore. From there, he signaled escaping slaves with a lantern on a flagpole and provided them shelter. From 1825 to 1865 Rankin and his wife, Jean, with their Brown County neighbors, sheltered more than 2,000 slaves escaping to freedom, with as many as 12 escapees being hidden in the Rankin home at one time.

“I only had a brief introduction about slavery in my high school history class,” said Suya Tan, Chinese scholar from Jiangsu Province in China. “After this trip, I felt and learned more things from the word FREE.”

Contact: Diana Howard, International Outreach Coordinator with International Student Office, (270) 745-4587.

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