The Underground Railroad Immersion Experience, and "A Complicated Legacy" | WYPR

The Underground Railroad Immersion Experience, and "A Complicated Legacy"

Jul 1, 2015

Historian Anthony Cohen brings the ‘living history’ model to the Underground Railroad; and novelist Robert Stucky talks about A Complicated Legacy, the story of a Southern plantation owner’s effort to emancipate his slaves, who were also his family.  

Historian Anthony Cohen in his back yard, with a replica slave collar
  At places like colonial Williamsburg and Fort McHenry and Gettysburg, historical interpreters bring history to life, as the brochures say.  They also make it an entertainment spectacle and a tourist attraction.  So what happens if you apply the living-history model to slavery?  Do you have a blacksmith make you authentic slave collar?  Do you recreate a slave auction?  Do you pack yourself in a crate and mail yourself to freedom, like Henry 'Box' Brown?  Historian Anthony Cohen has done all of the above.  He’s also collected oral histories about the Underground Railroad, mapped them into routes, and hiked them himself.  Nowadays he operates the Button Farm Living History Center in Germantown, Maryland, where visitors can experience an unvarnished interpretation of a Southern Plantation.

  During the Civil War, Maryland was a Union state.  It was also, incongruously, a state that permitted slavery.  A hundred fifty years ago this month, the Maryland Legislature righted that wrong, adopting a new state constitution that emancipated all enslaved people in the state.  In the years leading up to the war, ‘emancipation’ was a foggy legal issue from state to state, and it’s this legislative limbo that provides the backdrop for Robert Stucky’s historical novel, A Complicated Legacy.  The book dramatizes the saga of an actual court case from the era:  A South Carolina plantation owner sought to emancipate (and provide an inheritance for) his slaves, who also happened to be his family.  Author Robert Stucky joins producer Aaron Henkin for a look inside the story.