Hidden History: Destination Freedom

Hidden History

LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) The Underground Railroad’s secret route to safe houses in the north extended all the way through Canada and made an important stop in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

        And the proof is located on a grassy hillside in Lackawanna County– where those sympathetic to the cause of escapees played a key role in history.   Eyewitness News Anchor Nick Toma has our story

You wouldn’t expect this small hillside in Waverly Township to be at the crossroads of history– but one look at the gravestones on Hickory Grove Cemetery tells an extraordinary story of bravery and survival.

This cemetery is one of the oldest African American resting places in all of Pennsylvania, dating back to 1807 when Waverly was known as Abington Center.

 Many who are buried here fought and died in the civil war.

The Black community was made up of former slaves and free-born African Americans who made their way to this area during the early to mid-1800s. 

Some of the nearby homes served as safe houses for African Americans as part of the Underground Railroad– as former slaves made their way toward freedom.

“I went to Abington Heights High School and this was something I didn’t know about until a few years ago. The fact that this has been here and it’s something we’re discovering now and being able to bring it to the public is really special” said E.J. Murphy Tour Guide Destination Freedom Tour.

  E.J. Murphy is the “Destination Freedom” Tour guide. He says many of the soldiers buried here were heroes in the Civil War– like John Washington, a sergeant and the highest-ranking of the Waverly troops to hit the front lines. He was part of a successful charge as the union took back the confederate capital of Richmond Virginia– a turning point in the war.

“it was reported widely in the papers and used as proof that African Americans made good soldiers in the field,” said Murphy.

“If you were fighting in the South and were captured you risked being sent back into slavery, death on the battlefield, killed as a prisoner of war, so it was a very brave thing to join” Murphy explains.

 Another soldier, Samuel Thomas, was a cook in the 54th Massachusetts regiment.  The same unit made famous by the 1998 movie “Glory” starring Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman. 

 Murphy says Thomas probably didn’t see much combat because of a physical disability. 

“Waverly was added to the National Registry Of Historic Places in the early 2000s. The immediate square area that surrounds the Waverly Community is preserved so if you want to see actually places that participated in the underground railroad you can take the tour” noted E.J. Murphy.

And those tours have been ongoing since last summer–

  Giving a new perspective on an area more known for its historical connection to coal production and train travel.

 Call the Waverly Community House to Set up a tour

Phone:570-586-8191 Website:www.waverlycomm.org

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