8 Photographs Taken Along the Underground Railroad
Photographer Jeanine Michna-Bales reveals some of the scenes that would have confronted escaped slaves as they journeyed north.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY Jeanine Michna-Bales
When escaped slaves set out along the Underground Railroad, they had no tracks to follow. Their “stations” were the houses of sympathetic abolitionists, their “conductors” guides like Harriet Tubman who risked their lives and their own freedom to help ferry people to freedom in northern states. Some didn’t have guides, but made their way along the Railroad with the help of intel passed along by other enslaved people, preachers, and more. It can be hard to imagine how daunting the journey must have been—not just because of the risk of capture, but because the fugitives had to travel by night through hundreds of miles of strange wilderness. To illuminate the historic journeys undertaken by passengers on the Underground Railroad, photographer Jeanine Michna-Bales traveled along some of the same routes, shooting images of some of the paths escaped slaves would have taken. As she writes in the introduction to her book Through Darkness to Light: “Shooting at night, listening to all the natural sounds, I was overwhelmed with a sense of how vast, strange, and forbidding these remote places must have felt to those making the journey to freedom: the cicadas, the wind rustling through the trees, water trickling in a stream, coyotes howling in the distance, bullfrogs singing.” Her photos—spanning 1400 miles from Louisiana to Ontario—show just a slice of the vast scenery that would have faced enslaved people as they made their way to freedom.
On the Run. North of the Cane River Plantations, Louisiana, 2013
Stopover. Frogmore Plantation, Concordia Parish, Louisiana 2014
Cypress Swamp. Middle Mississippi, 2014
Keep Going. Crossing the Tennessee River, Colbert County, Alabama, 2014
Following the Green River. Edmonson County, Kentucky, 2014
Elias Conwell House. Along Old Michigan Road, a major north-south artery between Kentucky and Michigan, Napoleon, Indiana, 2013
The Beacon Tree. Spring Hill Farm, Macomb County, Michigan, 2014
Freedom. Canadian soil, Sarnia, Ontario, 2014