Topeka Even though it has been more than 150 years since cabins, houses and churches scattered across northeast Kansas were once hideouts for escaping slaves, the history is still visible.
In the seven present day counties in the region, more than 80 places still tell of the Underground Railroad.
This year, the history of the region will be brought together in one collective conference. July 28-31 at the Capitol Plaza Hotel, Topeka, will host the fourth annual National Underground Railroad Conference.
The conference — titled Battleground for Freedom; The Underground Railroad on the Western Frontier — will be a four-day event with historians, workshops, tours, exhibits and vendors.
Diane Miller, national manager for the Network of Freedom Program, said the conference will shed light on how the Underground Railroad in the West influenced the national struggle to abolish slavery.
“Participants will discover new connections to a larger national story with global significance,” Miller said.
In the West, Topeka was the southern terminus of the Jim Lane Trail. North of the Kansas River, the Lane Trail to Freedom collected travelers from dividing routes across the south and central regions.
In 10 present-day northeastern Kansas counties, more than 15 places are associated with this trail. It is also the trail by which John Brown left Kansas for his raid on the Harpers Ferry Arsenal.
Martha Parker, director of the Wakarusa River Valley Heritage Museum, said that while many people may focus on northeastern states such as the Carolinas, Virginia or Maryland as famous Underground Railroad sites, Kansas played a significant role as well. Because the Wakarusa Valley played such a pivotal role in the abolitionist movement and freedom frontier campaigns, Parker said it is great to finally have the conference in Kansas.
“It’s wonderful to have the conference here and to have a whole week of speakers and events centered around Kansas,” Parker said. “I’m hoping people will begin to take more interest in our history.”
To register to attend the event, visit ugrconference.com.