Niagara Gazette — “It’s time to recognize the power of the Underground Railroad’s brilliant legacy” pronounced Maya Angelou at the opening of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati 10 years ago in 2004. But my dear friend and colleague, the late Carol Murphy, as usual, was way ahead of the call; she’d already been up and running a full 10 years earlier, expanding the working McClew farmstead in nearby Burt into the most popular Underground Railroad Education Resource Center in Western New York, visited by more school children and families than anyplace else in the region.
So it was especially striking when the sad news arrived less than one week later that poet Maya Angelou, no doubt an inspiration to Carol, had also passed away, both taking their rightful places, somewhere over God’s Rainbow in the sky, neither to be soon forgotten as their brief time here on this Earth left behind legacies that will be long remembered for decades to come as the bountiful harvests from their work survives them.
Carol and I met initially on the telephone. I was trying to help her with some of the paperwork to complete an application for a grant to put together an interpretive center. She wanted to tell the whole story of the long rumored role of Charles and Anna Marie McClew’s and their alleged involvement in the Underground Railroad (UGRR) as so-called Station Masters back during the 1850s Fugitive Slave Laws days when anyone caught giving aid to “runaway slaves” could be subjected to severe penalties, including fines and the possible loss of their property.
Competition was tough. As word got out that money was available from New York state to fund educational programs that would help convey the truth about the UGRR, some groups and individuals began to discover all manner of “secret passages” and hideaways which they believed to be connected to the history of the UGRR. Some stories were potentially valid while others turned out to have a more likely connection to a more recent history having to do more with liquor smuggling during prohibition than the slave trade and the UGRR.