HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. — A research study conducted by a Northern Kentucky University professor and his colleagues will be presented at the Afterlives of Slavery Conference at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. next week.
The study examines the roles northern Kentucky, Cincinnati and the Ohio River all played in the Underground Railroad.
It wouldn’t be uncommon to find David Childs singing the old spiritual songs his grandmother passed down to him.
But Childs is also a historian. For historians, the Smithsonian is hallowed ground. And now Childs is going there.
“A lot of my escape was through reading and through books. One of my dreams was always to do work with the Smithsonian Institute. And so it is a huge honor for me to go down to the Smithsonian, and particularly that African American History Museum,” he said.
Childs is the Director of Black Studies at NKU, as well as a professor of social studies education and history.
He, along with some other professors and graduate students, will present a research study, titled “Jordan River I’m Bound to Cross: Researching Slavery and Religion in Northern Kentucky and Ohio” which explores the significant role the Ohio River played in enslavement.
“The Underground Railroad, a lot of times we think about it in Mississippi. We think about it in far away places, Alabama. But much of the underground railroad activity happened right here, right over the Ohio River,” Childs said. “Because Kentucky was a border state during the Civil War.”
The Ohio River was the last hurdle to freedom for slaves to make it into the free state of Ohio and was the final stop for the Underground Railroad
“Sometimes they would wait till the Ohio River froze over to cross over it, or they would find more shallow places to cross,” Childs said.
Childs is interested in people like Margaret Garner, who killed one of her own children so they could avoid enslavement.
“That seems kind of brutal. But it’s a testament to the psychological trauma of being an enslaved person,” Childs said.
He’s also written about Sarah Mayrant Fossett, an abolitionist and business owner who, along with her husband, founded Cincinnati’s oldest black church. That church also played a significant role in the Underground Railroad.
“Kentucky and Ohio are huge regions for historical study that perhaps has been neglected, and so that’s the main reason that I will be going there,” Childs said.
Like his grandma passed her songs to him, Childs hopes to pass his knowledge to as many people as he can.
The study he’s presenting also showcases research done by NKU’s Black studies program and the master of public history program on historical sites tied to freedom and religion.
That includes research conducted at a historically Black church, an all African American school, and several underground railroad sites throughout the region.