The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is a museum in downtown Cincinnati
based on the history of the Underground Railroad.The Center also pays tribute to all efforts to "abolish human enslavement and secure freedom for all people."
It is one of a new group of "museums of conscience," along with the Museum of Tolerance, the United States
Holocaust Memorial Museum and the National Civil Rights Museum. The Center offers insight into the struggle for freedom in the past, in the present, and for the future, as it attempts to challenge visitors to contemplate the meaning of freedom in their own lives.
Its location recognizes the significant role of Cincinnati in the history of the Underground Railroad, as thousands of slaves escaped to freedom by crossing the Ohio River to the city.
After ten years of planning, fundraising, and construction, the $110 million Freedom Center opened to the public on August 3, 2004; official opening ceremonies took place on August 23. The 158,000 square foot (15,000 m²) structure was designed by Boora Architects (design architect) of Portland, Oregon
with Blackburn Architects (architect of record) of Indianapolis.
Three pavilions celebrate courage, cooperation and perseverance. The exterior features rough travertine stone from Tivoli, Italy
on the east and west faces of the building, and copper panels on the north and south.
The center's principal artifact is a 21 by 30 foot (6 by 9 m), two-story log slave pen built in 1830. By 2003, it was "the only known surviving rural slave jail," previously used to house slaves prior to their being shipped to auction.
Visitors to the museum can walk through the holding pen and touch its walls. The first names of some of the slaves believed to have been held in the pen are listed on a wooden slab in the pen's interior; they were documented in records kept by slave traders who used the pen.
- The "Suite for Freedom" Theater features three animated films: these address the fragile nature of freedom throughout human history, particularly as related to the Underground Railroad and slavery in the United States.
- The "ESCAPE! Freedom Seekers" interactive display about the Underground Railroad; it presents school groups and families with young children with choices on an imaginary escape attempt. The gallery features information about figures including William Lloyd Garrison, an abolitionist; Harriet Tubman, an escaped slave and conductor on the Underground Railroad; and Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave who became an abolitionist and orator.
- The film, Brothers of the Borderland, tells the story of the Underground Railroad in Ripley, Ohio, where conductors both black-John Parker and white - Reverend John Rankin helped slaves such as a fictional Alice. It was directed by Julie Dash.
- Exhibits about the history of slavery and opponents including John Brown and President Abraham Lincoln; and the American Civil War that ended it.
- The Struggle Continues, an exhibit portrays continuing challenges faced by African Americans since the end of slavery, struggles for freedom in today's World, and ways that the Underground Railroad has inspired groups in India, Poland and South Africa.
- The John Parker Library houses a collection of multimedia materials about the Underground Railroad and freedom-related issues.
- The FamilySearch Center allows visitors to investigate their own roots.
- The Freedom Center’s Executive Director and CEO, John Pepper, was previously the CEO of Procter & Gamble.