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Texas Underground Railroad
Is Conference Topic

log cabin scene
Jake returns to say goodbye to Lucy in this scene from an Allen and Naomi Grundy vignette entitled "Sweet Bye and Bye." Jake was killed by a "warning shot," but thousands of others formerly enslaved did make it to freedom, many along the Underground Railroad.
"Follow the Drinking Gourd" is not a drinking song. It is a freedom song.

It was sung by the formerly enslaved as they traveled north along the "Underground Railroad" during the 1800s, often at night and using the Big Dipper and nearby North Star as their guide.

Except for those fleeing Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and possibly other nearby states. An estimated 5,000 fled southwest and made it to Mexico, but little is known about the network that must have been there to help them.

"They certainly did not follow the drinking gourd," said Naomi Grundy, one of the planners of a two-day conference this weekend at Sam Houston State University entitled "Blazing Trails to Freedom; The Underground Railroad in Texas."

The conference will be held at the Walker Education Center of the Sam Houston Memorial Museum complex. The main program is 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, with an optional Huntsville Historic Tour Friday morning, a drama presentation at the Fernland historic site near Conroe Friday afternoon, and a Lake Conroe riverboat reception Friday evening.

"We want to know where, if there was a network, did it exist," said Grundy. "If those escaping were to be successful, there must have been help getting food, crossing rivers, and resting."

Among those attending are expected to be historians, educators/researchers, genealogists, Underground Railroad state associations, historical associations, museum personnel, librarians, and county historians.

Keynote addresses are scheduled by John King, deputy director of the National Park Service Intermountain Region and Vincent DeForest, special assistant to the director of the National Park Service.

Historians expected to make presentations include Alwyn Barr of Texas Tech University, Randolph Campbell of the University of North Texas and Ronnie C. Tyler, president of the Texas State Historical Society.

Carl Wilson, co-coordinator of the Indiana Freedom Trails program, is scheduled to discuss that effort, with presentations also by Iantha Gantt-Wright of the National Parks and Conservation Association and Karen Riles of the Texas Historical Commission.

Aaron Mahr, coordinator of the National Park Service Intermountain Region Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program, is scheduled to discuss what research or knowledge exists on the Underground Railroad in Texas, what types of sites, programs, or facilities can be park of a Network to Freedom in Texas, and "where do we go from here."

Naomi Grundy and her husband, Allen, are former teachers who are now involved full time in researching, preserving, and presenting aspects of Texas history relating to African-Americans and other minorities. Their Talking Back Living History Association is sponsoring the conference, along with the National Park Service and Sam Houston Memorial Museum.

The Grundys write and produce short plays or "vignettes," including two performed during last year's General Sam Houston Folk Festival, and another performed March 4 and 5 at the Washington-on-the-Brazos State Park.

Entitled "Sweet Bye and Bye," it told the story of Jake and Lucy, who were owned by the Texas historical figure Anson Jones. Jake was sold by Jones, then killed by an overseer's "warning shot" when he returned to say goodbye to his pregnant wife.

Friday afternoon's vignette is "Fugitives of Passion," with Sam Houston State University student-actors Travis Upchurch, Dallas Jones, Alex Gardner, Tiffany Williams, Amanda Bauer and Bianca Toscano.

For more information on the conference call 713.383.7161.

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SHSU Media Contact: Frank Krystyniak
March 21, 2000
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