An Iowan who’s become something of an expert on the Underground Railroad says historians have a hard time tracing its history. Gaylin Berrier of Ankeny has researched the loose-linked organization which helped slaves escape to freedom.Berrier says the Underground Railroad is shrouded by myths and legends, partly because most of the freedom-seekers were not able to read or write. That means few of the slaves left their own stories. Berrier often gives speeches about the Underground Railroad, and despite the lack of information about its black “passengers” he focuses his talks on the slaves’ perspective. Berrier says while the white people who hosted the slaves at the overnight “stops” along the Underground Railroad took great risks to help free the slaves, that’s only part of the story. Berrier says “it’s really a story of African Americans themselves and that story hasn’t always been told.” Berrier says while history often depicts the white Americans who helped the slaves as the main characters, Berrier believes the central characters of the historic movement are the slaves themselves. Berrier says too often the slaves fleeing for freedom have been depicted to be “helpless and befuddled.” He hopes to change that perception. Berrier wrote a chapter about the Underground Railroad in the book “Outside in: African American History in Iowa from 1838 to 2000.” He’s scheduled to speak about the Underground Railroad August 3rd at Jester Park’s Lodge in central Iowa. The speech will begin at 11 a.m.
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