Temporary exhibit, “Through Darkness to Light: Photographs Along the Underground Railroad” on display for Black History Month

January 26, 2024

Magnolia Plantation on the Cane River, LA; “They worked me all de day, Widout one cent of pay; So I took my flight in de middle ob de night, When de moon am gone away.” – chorus of Geo. W. Clark Liberty Song

The traveling national exhibit, Through Darkness to Light: Photographs Along the Underground Railroad, will be on display at the St. Clement’s Island Museum starting January 28, 2024, and running through Black History Month until March 16, 2024.

The St. Clement’s Island Museum is open daily, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., admission prices and other information are available online at: www.stmaryscountymd.gov/SCIM.

Through Darkness to Light: Photographs Along the Underground Railroad

They left during the middle of the night—often carrying little more than the knowledge that moss grows on the north side of trees. An estimated 100,000 slaves between 1830 and the end of the Civil War in 1865 chose to embark on this journey in search of freedom.

They moved in constant fear of being killed or recaptured, returned, and beaten as an example of what would happen to others who might choose to run. Under the cover of darkness, “fugitives” traveled roughly twenty miles each night, traversing rugged terrain while enduring all the hardships that Mother Nature could bring to bear.

Occasionally, they were guided from one secret, safe location to the next by an ever- changing, clandestine group known as the Underground Railroad. Many consider the Underground Railroad to be the first great freedom movement in the Americas and the first time when people of different races and faiths worked together in harmony for freedom and justice.

Photographer Jeanine Michna-Bales has spent more than a decade meticulously researching “fugitive” slaves and the ways they escaped to freedom. While the unnumbered routes of the Underground Railroad encompassed countless square miles, the path Michna-Bales documented encompasses roughly 2,000 miles and is based on actual sites, cities, and places that freedom-seekers passed through during their journey.

Whether they were slaves trying to escape or free blacks and whites trying to help, both sides risked everything for the cause of freedom. From the cotton plantations south of Natchitoches, Louisiana, all the way north to the Canadian border, this series of photographs by Michna-Bales helps us imagine what the long road to freedom may have looked like as seen through the eyes of one of those who made this epic journey.

While many books have been written on the subject, there is very little visual documentation of the Underground Railroad because of its secretive nature. Today, as America becomes more and more diverse, Michna-Bales believes that an understanding of the experience—and those who lived through it—is more relevant than ever.

The Underground Railroad united people from different races, genders, social levels, religions, and regions in a common and worthwhile cause. It was the first civil rights movement within America. Through Darkness to Light: Photographs Along the Underground Railroad encourages visitors to learn more, ask questions and open a dialogue on the subject, and in the end, provide a better understanding of our origins.

This exhibition features beautifully dramatic color photographs, ephemera and narratives that together tell the story of the Underground Railroad. The author is working with Princeton Architectural Press to prepare a publication that will combine eighty-two original photographs and text with a diverse sampling of related ephemera.

The St. Mary’s County Museum Division is one of many organizations from around the country that will display this incredible traveling exhibition and has waited several years to be able to bring it to St. Mary’s County, which has four sites on the National Park Service’s National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Trail, including the Old Jail Museum.

Museum Division Manager, Karen Stone is thrilled to be able to bring this amazing display to St. Mary’s County. “This high quality and stirring exhibit will be available to the public during Black History Month 2024 before moving on to its next destination,” said Stone. “We hope the Southern Maryland community will come and check out this experience while they can!”

For more information on this exhibit, please visit Facebook.com/SCIMuseum or eusa.org/exhibition/underground-railroad.

This exhibition was organized by ExhibitsUSA, a program of Mid-America Arts Alliance.

About ExhibitsUSA – This exhibition is toured by ExhibitsUSA, a national program of Mid-America Arts Alliance. ExhibitsUSA sends more than twenty-five exhibitions on tour to over 100 small- and mid-sized communities every year. These exhibitions create access to an array of arts and humanities experiences, nurture the understanding of diverse cultures and art forms, and encourage the expanding depth and breadth of cultural life in local communities. For more about ExhibitsUSA, email [email protected] or visit www.eusa.org.

About Mid-America Arts Alliance – Mid-America Arts Alliance (M-AAA) strengthens and supports artists, cultural organizations, and communities throughout our region and beyond. We achieve this primarily through our national traveling exhibition programs, innovative leadership development, and strategic grant making. We are especially committed to enriching the cultural life of historically underserved communities by providing high quality, meaningful, and accessible arts and culture programs and services. We believe in more art for more people. Additional information about M-AAA is available at www.maaa.org.

About the St. Mary’s County Museum Division – The St. Mary’s County Museum Division was established by the Commissioners of St. Mary’s County to collect, preserve, research, and interpret the historic sites and artifacts which illustrate the natural and cultural histories of St. Mary’s County and the Potomac River. These sites include St. Clement’s Island Museum, Piney Point Lighthouse Museum, the Old Jail Museum, and the Drayden African American Schoolhouse. With this as its charter, the Museum Division serves as a resource, liaison and community advocate for all St. Mary’s County public and private cultural assets. For more information, please visit: www.stmaryscountymd.gov/Museums.

Magnolia Plantation on the Cane River, LA; “They worked me all de day, Widout one cent of pay; So I took my flight in de middle ob de night, When de moon am gone away.” – chorus of Geo. W. Clark Liberty Song