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Touring the Cogswell Hall on Franklin Avenue

On Tuesday, June 1st, we went to Cogswell Hall on Franklin Avenue to take a tour of the facility and listen to a presentation by Rev. Dr. Patrick Hunt IMG_1671about the Underground Railroad.

As one of the slides that we saw that evening stated, "Ohio had the most active network in the Underground Railway, with approximately 3000 miles of routes running from the Ohio River to Lake Erie."

When we arrived we said hello to our friend Mr. Hans Holznagel, the Development and Marketing Manager of Cogswell Hall, who we have worked with as members of "Friends of Lincoln-West High School."

The tour of Cogswell Hall was conducted by Ms. Gillian Civic, Program Manager, who explained to us that the facilityIMG_1695 is now home to 41 people, both men and women, who have suffered from physical, mental, and developmental disabilities and are now able to live independently for the most part; they may need some help with things like scheduling doctor appointments and remembering to take their medications but by and large manage quite well.

Cogswell Hall provides a community atmosphere in which everyone supports each other. The values espoused are community, diversity, compassion, integrity, and sustainability. One resident lived there for 20 years while others have stayed for as little as 6 months or as long as 10 years.

Afterwards, we spoke to Ms. Civic who told us that she knew Ms. Margaret W. Wong through their work years ago with a nonprofit coalitioncalled "Womenspace" which, according to the "Encyclopedia of Cleveland History",  addressed "issues affecting women and families."

IMG_1669As for the presentation by Rev. Dr. Patrick Hunt, we thought, because of our history courses in middle school, that we knew something about the underground railroad but at this gathering we learned a lot more. Rev. Dr. Hunt was certainly an appropriate one to talk about it because his own great-grandfather was a slave who escaped when he was quite young with the help of the underground railroad. Eventually, he became a pastor and founded a church in Uniontown, PA.

Rev. Dr. Hunt's own father was a member of the Tuskegee Airmen and had a fascination for genealogy which he passed on to his son. He thus spent time interviewing his aging relatives about familial history which was not too easy for them to talk about due to degrading nature of slavery. Nevertheless, we believe that Rev. Dr. Hunt self-educated himself to the extent that he could now be termed an expert on this subject.

During his presentation, he focused on the codes that the slaves used to convey messages to each other either before or during their escape. He talked a lot about certain patterns on quilts that were deliberately hung outside so that the escapees and those trying to help them could see them; often times seeing the quilt and its message meant the difference between capture and freedom.  For instance, a log cabin pattern on a quilt let them know where safe houses were.

As one slide indicated, those running the Underground Railroad "felt safe to apply religious words, signs, and symbols to extend the vocabulary of the organization." As such, "Canaan" meant Canada; a "preacher" was an abolitionist; the "River Jordan" meant the Ohio River; and "shepherds" were those who guided slaves between safe houses.

The lyrics in songs were also significant. Rev. Dr. Hunt displayed a slide showing the lyrics of the hymn "Follow the Drinking Gourd" on one side and the directions that those words were imparting to the slaves on the other.

Rev. Dr. Hunt said that all of this should quickly dispel the myth that slaves were dumb; they would have to be pretty smart to put codes like these together and to be able to understand them.

We asked him if he believed that any of this paralleled what was going on at this time concerning undocumented workers being pursued by the authorities here and being deported. Interestingly, Rev. Dr. Hunt's research showed that many people in the "free" states at that time felt just as threatened by the presence of the escaped slaves just as some people feel threatened by the presence of immigrants at this time. Nevertheless, he believed that the undocumented and the slaves shared the common trait of willingness to undergo hardship to ultimately make a better life for themselves.

By:

Michael Patterson 

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC

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