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
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
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
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.