On June 15, the Pan-African Historical Museum USA will guide visitors through the history rooted by Springfield’s abolitionists on the historically reconstructed five-stop “Underground Railroad Walking Tour”.
PAHMUSA will be offering its free tour this Saturday as part of Springfield’s two days “Jubilee of June 17” Party.
Those interested in embarking on the tour will meet a PAHMUSA guide at the museum entrance, located on the 2nd floor of Tower Square in downtown Springfield. Tours will be offered at 5 p.m. and 5:15 p.m. on Saturday, June 19.
Tours will still be offered after June 15. PAHMUSA will host the Underground Railroad Walking Tour on the third Saturday of each month. Look towards them Facebook page for updated timetables.
Museum Director Sam Bradley works to carry on the legacy of LaJuana Hood, founder of PAHMUSA and Springfield community leader, who passed away in May 2019.
“She was an incredible teacher,” said Bradley, of Hood, who shared treasures of Pan-African history and knowledge with him, “She was also a pious woman.”
Bradley will continue Hood’s legacy this Saturday with the Underground Railroad Walking Tour. He is delighted to present a piece of Springfield history that often tends to get overlooked.
“I want them to learn history, to see what people have done to find something that a younger person will take for granted,” Bradley said.
Dating back to the 1830s, Springfield was a milestone on the Underground Railroad. Populated by black and white abolitionists, Springfield business owners provided refuge for fleeing slaves.
The Underground Railroad tour will stop at five different locations in the city center. These “shelters” were used to hide captured slaves who, due to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, could legally re-capture slaves in abolished states.
“We’ll have character actors, for example, I’ll be playing as someone named James Lindsey Smith,” Bradley said.
These character actors will be dispersed throughout the tour, providing insight and context into their history and the importance of the region around them.
A stop will take visitors to the Paramount Theater, formerly known as the Hippodrome, at 1676 Main Street. In the 1800s, the theater was known as the Hôtel Massasoit and was owned by the Chaplin family.
“It was a place the slaves hid, it was like a restaurant,” Bradley said. The Chaplin family both hid and fed slaves in the Great Hall. When slave hunters ventured to look for fugitives, the Chaplins “dressed them like waiters”, hiding them from plain sight.
“There are a lot of places here in Springfield, every place has stories like that,” Bradley said.
What Bradley wants more than anything is that the young black residents of Springfield, who join the tour this weekend, have a better appreciation for the history around them.
“They don’t really teach it now,” Bradley said, “I want them to take away the knowledge of what their ancestors had to do for their freedom that anyone can rise above.”
Bradley uses his own life story to encourage others. In the past, he suffered from a brain aneurysm and a stroke. He was diagnosed with dystonia, a condition that involuntarily forces his muscles to contract and contort, as well as sarcoidosis, an inflammatory lung disease that claimed the life of comedian Bernie Mac in 2008.
“I have it all, but I won’t let it stop me. And this is what I want the kids to remember, don’t let anything stop you from reaching your goal.