I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t like to learn when I vacation. I usually only want to be entertained when I travel -- with water slides and amusement parks -- however, when I took a trip to Oberlin, I was easily amazed and inspired by the depth of history and beauty of the city.
The proud heritage of Oberlin is clear as you walk through the picturesque town. On the Freedom’s Friends History Walk, you learn that as many as 3,000 African Americans passed through or lived in Oberlin after escaping slavery.
Oberlin College was a pioneer of desegregation and was one of the first colleges in the nation to accept black and female students. In fact, Sarah Margru Kinson, the youngest captured slave on the ship Amistad, was educated in Oberlin. The city is also recognized historically for the many abolitionists who resided there and helped escaped slaves along the Underground Railroad.
On Oberlin’s campus, all around Tappan Square, there are wonderful shops and eateries to enjoy, or you can just hang out in the square and read a book. Look out for the albino squirrels, who are legends in their own right!
A mile south of Tappan Square is Westwood Cemetery, where you can see the final resting places of other notable members of the anti-slavery movement, including abolitionist, Reverend John Bardwell, whose home was a part of the Underground Railroad, and Lewis Clark, who is believed to be the basis for the character George Harris in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Clark escaped slavery and recapture as he appeared at abolitionist meetings in free states.
Langston House is another wonderful landmark, and home of John Mercer Langston, Ohio’s first African-American lawyer and also an abolitionist, minister to Haiti, as well as a Republican congressman from Virginia. His house is part of the National Register of Historic Places and a National Historic Landmark.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Park has monuments that honor significant events in African-American history. There, an obelisk commemorates John Brown’s infamous raid on Harper’s Ferry and the two black Oberlin men who fought there. Another monument honors 20 men from Oberlin who were arrested when they stood up to slave hunters, rescuing a re-captured slave and helping him travel safely to freedom. The story of these Oberlin-Wellington Rescuers stirred anger around the nation, prompting one historian to brand Oberlin as “The Town that Started the Civil War."
Perhaps the most entertaining part of my Oberlin adventure was trying to find the Underground Railroad Sculpture that recognizes and honors the heroic and daring fight for freedom for many who lived or passed through Oberlin. Right outside of Talcott Hall, the Underground Railroad Sculpture should have been easy to find, but the directions I had took me in several different directions until I finally almost fell over it!
Needless to say, I was happily surprised by all the things there are to learn in Oberlin. It truly played a significant role in the abolitionist movement and the fight for liberty and freedom. If it were not for the help of the Oberlin Heritage Center which provides a multitude of ways to tour and experience the city of Oberlin, I would still be wondering where to go.