Until Emancipation, Detroit was a pivotal part of the Underground Railroad, an 1800s network of abolitionists, or “conductors,” who aided enslaved people seeking freedom. That’s because the city, code-named “Midnight,” provided access to Canada just across the Detroit River.
Today, you can tour some of the “stations” that sheltered escapees and explore exhibits and monuments dedicated to preserving the past. Visit them individually or book a group outing, which is just one of the many ways to celebrate Black history in Detroit.
Discover Detroit’s Underground Railroad
Second Baptist Church of Detroit
When it comes to Detroit’s role in the Underground Railroad, not much is more historically significant than Second Baptist Church. In fact, the safe house in the church’s basement, known as the “Croghan Street Station,” is one of the only remaining documented Detroit stations on the Underground Railroad still in existence today. Tours are offered Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Reservations are required.
First Congregational Church of Detroit
Once a Detroit station, the church has transformed its lower level into a living replica of the Underground Railroad. Tour it during the 90-minute “Flight to Freedom” experience, a time portal that takes you back to the mid-1800s on a quest for freedom. On your journey, you’ll hide from bounty hunters, cross the Ohio “Deep” river and take retreat in a safe house in Indiana before moving to the First Congregational Church of Detroit and, finally, freedom in Canada. The experience is offered Tuesday–Saturday at 11 a.m. Reservations are required.
Detroit Historical Museum
The Detroit Historical Museum’s “Doorway to Freedom” exhibit offers an opportunity to learn about Detroit’s role during a pivotal time in America’s history. As you walk the exhibit, you’ll hear slaves speak about their experiences and talk about their fears — but, until the end, you won’t know who succeeded in gaining freedom. Admission is free.
“Gateway to Freedom” Memorial
Located in Hart Plaza along the Detroit RiverWalk, the “Gateway to Freedom” sculpture is a reminder of the struggles faced by many. It features a group of slaves preparing to cross the Detroit River into Canada, with conductor George DeBaptiste pointing out the route. Available for viewing 24/7.
Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History
Located in Midtown, The Wright is considered the world’s largest institution dedicated to the African-American experience. Key to that experience is the museum’s 22,000-sq.-ft. interactive “And Still We Rise: Our Journey through African American History and Culture” exhibit, which includes galleries that details the horrors of bondage and how many slaves emancipated themselves, including flight by way of the Underground Railroad. Open Tuesday–Sunday.