This is the fifth article in a series that highlights places to visit while in Memphis for the IBC. Jimmi Langemo of Jimmi and the Band of Souls used to spend 12 to 15 weeks of the year in Memphis doing diversity and leadership development work.
Do you ever wonder what one person can do to make a difference? Do you ever think, “I’m not a leader. I’m not the kind of person who can inspire a movement. What could I do to make a difference . . . to make this world a better place?”
If you have ever asked this question, take some time while you’re in Memphis to visit the home of Jacob Burkle . . . also known as Slave Haven. You’ll walk away with the answer.
Jacob Burkle immigrated from Germany in the 1849 to escape persecution. He and his family settled on a little farm close to the Mississippi River. As he settled into his new life in the USA, he saw there was persecution here too, but it was worse and he wasn’t the one being subjected to it. He decided to use his house as one of the stops on the Underground Railroad.
Men, women and children escaping the clutches of slavery would stay in his cellar until it was safe. He had five exits from his cellar, so if the house was ever raided, his guests could get away. Of course, if he was caught, he could expect to spend some time in jail. When it was safe for the people to get away they raced to the Mississippi and made their way to Ohio where Quakers would help them on their way to safety.
Today, Jacob’s home has been turned into an underground railroad museum. Before my first visit, I assumed that the museum would be heavy and depressing. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Sure, you see the cruel ways slave owners treated people and the information can drive you to tears or make you shiver to think this happened in the USA. However, what’s more compelling is the cleverness, persistence and ingenuity of the African slaves. They had to be very creative in how they communicated, how they traveled, how they helped one another. It was also compelling to see how many white people helped out. It was a reminder that the fight for freedom and equality isn’t about black and white. It’s about right and wrong.
The story was inspiring. And their legacy has stuck with me.
When I look around my little world and see injustice and cruelty and wonder how I can make a difference, I remember how hard the African people fought for their freedom from slavery. I remember how ingenious some of their strategies working with few resources and under incredibly harsh, life-threatening experience. I also remember the story of Jacob Burkle. He didn’t lead marches. He didn’t make grand speeches. He didn’t didn’t organize protests.
What did he do?
He opened his home. He helped people along on their journey by giving them rest.
I can do that.
Please visit Slave Haven. You will be thankful you did. The visit takes about 90-minutes.
For more information visit http://www.slavehavenundergroundrailroadmuseum.org/
Note: Slave Haven was so inspiring to me I wrote the song “Magnolia Tree” which was featured on our first album, The Devil You Know.