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Cemetery listed as part of Underground Railroad

Greenwood Cemetery in Birmingham is one of 16 additions to the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, the National Park Service announced.

Greenwood Cemetery is a historic cemetery located off Oak Street north of Greenwood. An application was submitted for this national designation by the Birmingham Museum's Director, Leslie Pielack, after burial sites of the abolitionist Elijah S. Fish and freedom seeker George B. Taylor, were both discovered at Greenwood Cemetery, and their stories were uncovered late last year.

“It was a team approach. Museum staff members and local historians worked hard to uncover the incredible stories of Fish and Taylor,” said Pielack.

Pielack explained how researchers discovered one clue at a time, working backward in time to put the pieces together for both extraordinary men. Birmingham settler Elijah Fish established the first local Presbyterian Church in his barn, and helped found the Oakland County Anti-Slavery Society in 1836, before the state of Michigan organized its society. He worked all his life to help freedom seekers escape enslavement, and provided money and supplies to help them reach freedom, she said.

George Taylor’s life was very different, Pielack said. Following a public whipping in Kentucky, he escaped slavery with a grueling journey to Michigan by nightfall and on foot. During his flight, he was briefly captured and held prisoner, shot at, and nearly died from hunger and exposure. Taylor and his wife, Eliza, later became the first African Americans to own property in Birmingham in the late 19th century.

Until last year, the Taylors’ graves in Greenwood cemetery had remained unmarked. The Birmingham Museum helped coordinate a fundraiser with the Friends of the Birmingham Museum and the Piety Hill Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution for grave markers. The campaign was embraced by the community and exceeded expectations.

“Within a couple months, we had raised nearly $16,000 from all over the U.S.,” said Pielack. “It was gratifying to see such broad support to recognize the Taylors’ lives with a proper marker that acknowledges their story. The marker is expected to be installed later this year with the inscription, ‘Born into slavery/Died free in Birmingham’.”

“The freedom seekers and allies highlighted in each Network to Freedom listing remind us of what can be accomplished when people take action against injustice,” said Network to Freedom National Program Manager Diane Miller. “Each listing holds a unique part of the Underground Railroad story.”

“We are excited to see them recognized nationally, and to shed light on their truly remarkable lives,” Pielack said.

Photo credit: Courtesy of The Birmingham Museum


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