Before the Civil War, the Ohio River meant freedom. Even though it was the primary water route for the still-thriving American slave trade, the river was also the border between the slave states of the South and the free states of the Northwest Territory. This attracted escaping slaves and abolitionists of all races to Cincinnati, as well as pro-slavery activists and economic interests. Secret hiding places and tunnels used for the Underground Railroad can still be found throughout the region.
So it is only fitting that the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is now located on the banks of this river. Built in 2004, this striking curvilinear museum explores the history of slavery in the United States and the difficult path towards freedom. The museum’s three pavilions trace African-American history from the beginnings of the triangular trade to the present, concentrating on the events through the Reconstruction era. The exhibits take local connections and put them in a national scope, examining many facets of the issues of slavery, racism, and freedom. There is even a focus on including the roles of other minority groups such as women and Native Americans.