In a ceremony celebrating September as International Underground Railroad Month, the National Park Service announced that two Iowa cemeteries have been accepted into the Network to Freedom. Newton Union Cemetery and Woodland Cemetery in Des Moines are the burial sites of Freedom Seekers and Underground Railroad operatives who helped formerly enslaved people on their journey. These successful submissions are 2 of 18 accepted this September.
This announcement is the result of the Forever Free Pilot Mentoring Project, managed by the West Des Moines Historical Society. Forever Free is funded through a grant from the Association for the Study of African American Life and History and presented in partnership with National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.
The objective of the program is to bring community mentors and students together to uncover and document the history of the Underground Railroad in selected Iowa communities.
In Woodland Cemetery in Des Moines, Drake University student Allie Shambaugh-Miller & Valley High School Senior Maddie Cason, along with mentor Ricki King, documented the gravesites 15 Underground Railroad operatives and freedom seekers. For example, Isaac Brandt was active in the Underground Railroad. Jefferson Logan, a freedom seeker from Missouri who Brandt aided, became a well-known Underground Railroad operative in the area. Another notable operative buried here is Delia Webster, whose activity took place else where, but passed away in Des Moines.
Newton Union Cemetery, established in 1854, holds the graves of ten freedom seekers who escaped from Missouri during the early 1860s are buried here. Eight freedom seekers continued in the struggle against slavery, enlisting in the 60th United States Colored Troops and serving during the Civil War. Mentor Larry Hurto and Nebraska Wesleyan University graduate Brad Ernesti documented the lives of these brave men.
More about the new Network to Freedom sites can be found here.