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Barry Schrader


I wrote a column for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle for 8 years starting in December 2007 and running until November 2015. Then I returned to column writing in August 2016, all of them archived here.


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How can we teach about local abolitionists

By Barry Schrader Senior Columnist...................Oct 20, 2016

Last Saturday three sites of significance in the Underground Railroad were marked with plaques on posts around DeKalb County.

A handful of the county's citizens turned out to commemorate the unveilings, but I wish we had involved schoolchildren and their teachers.

I have written columns before about lack of local history offered in our schools and very little taught about Illinois' past. In 2018 our state will celebrate its Bicentennial. But will there be any curriculum plans made available to teachers to help mark that milestone?

The speakers at the dedications shared the story of the Underground Railroad in this county, reminding us that our forefathers were willing to risk arrest and condemnation for harboring runaway slaves seeking freedom, enroute to

Deacon David West

Canada. There were laws against helping slaves who escaped bondage in the South and bounty hunters joined law enforcement in chasing and capturing the fleeing blacks and arresting those who were helping them along the way. Many churchgoing men and women saw the injustice of it all and defied the law by helping these people.

At one of the sites, the former Deacon David West farm on Old State Road, Nancy Beasley who wrote the book "The Underground Railroad in DeKalb County, Illinois" and Harlen Persinger, great-great grandson of Deacon West, enlightened us on the history of that particular abolitionist and his daring moves to hide and transport people.

West's corncrib had a hiding place beneath the floor and one or more of his wagons were built with a false bottom so up to seven people could lie prone under the raised floor while he piled hay or straw into the wagon before taking them to the next stop in St. Charles. These trips were made under cover of darkness and never during a full moon. What must have been going through the minds of those runaways as they were packed into such cramped quarters, entrusting their lives to the farmers and other citizens willing to shuttle them from place to place.

They told about the 80th birthday celebration for West on the very ground where the marker was placed, back in 1886 when fellow abolitionists and congregants gathered to pay him tribute. It makes us think back 130 years about the sacrifices and courage of both slaves and DeKalb County citizens who helped them.

Why can't more local history be taught in our schools, even if we have to form a speakers' bureau with volunteers aided by a Powerpoint presentation, going from school to school wherever invited. Also, wouldn't it be an exiting history lesson to build a replica wagon like West used, letting the kids slide into that claustrophobic, hidden chamber and have straw spread over them. They wouldn't forget that lesson for a long time. Maybe someone should contact Cliff Golden to see if he has a Scout who would build this as an Eagle project.

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115