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City recognizes link to Underground Railroad

This Saturday, September 17, at 11 a.m., the community is invited to an Underground Railroad Commemoration Ceremony at Quarton Lake Park, where the National Park Service will formally recognize the Greenwood Cemetery gravesites of abolitionist Elijah S. Fish and freedom seeker George B. Taylor on the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.

The event is coordinated by the Birmingham Museum along with city of Birmingham staff and officials. The ceremony will take place at Quarton Lake Park (the corner of Oak and Lakeside), from 11 a.m. to noon, followed by Greenwood Cemetery tour. Following the event, the Birmingham Museum at 556 West Maple Road will be open to the public at no charge from 2 p.m. – 4 p.m.

Ceremony attendees will include city officials and staff, local historians, state representatives and descendants of George Taylor and Elijah Fish, who are traveling from around the country to speak during the event. The city of Birmingham invites everyone to honor these two men and their lifelong struggles to bring an end to slavery in America, and their contributions to Birmingham's history.

Elijah Fish was an anti-slavery activist who co-founded the Oakland County Anti-Slavery Society with over 50 other nearby pioneer settlers even before Michigan had formed such a group. He brought nationally known lecturers and formerly enslaved abolitionist speakers to the small village of Birmingham, drawing crowds from all over the area in the years leading up to the Civil War to create awareness and promote anti-slavery public policy.

Fish, who was also a deacon in Birmingham's First Presbyterian Church, died in 1861 before seeing slavery finally abolished and was buried in Greenwood Cemetery.

During the same period, freedom seekers in slaveholding states were desperate to gain their freedom, even if it meant walking hundreds of miles by night toward the North Star and to the Underground Railroad in Michigan. In 1855, George Taylor, who was held as a slave in Kentucky, fled on foot by night after a public whipping, almost died of hunger and thirst, was hunted by dogs and narrowly escaped capture and re-enslavement. After almost a month's journey, he finally reached Michigan and then made it to Canada by the Underground Railroad.

Taylor returned to Birmingham after achieving freedom and became a farmer. He later purchased a house in Birmingham, becoming the first African American to own property here, and also helped found Birmingham's United Presbyterian Church. George and his wife Eliza, also formerly enslaved, made their home in Birmingham until they died in 1901 and 1902. They are buried together in Greenwood Cemetery, but do not have grave markers. Past public donations will make it possible to install a marker for them this fall.


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