They left during the middle of the night—often carrying little more than the knowledge that moss grows on the north side of trees. An estimated 100,000 enslaved persons between 1830 and the end of the Civil War in 1865 chose to embark on this journey in search of freedom. They moved in constant fear of being killed or recaptured, returned, and beaten as an example of what would happen to others who might choose to run.
Under the cover of darkness, those fleeing slavery traveled roughly twenty miles each night traversing rugged terrain while enduring extreme hardships. Occasionally, they were guided from one secret, safe location to the next by an ever-changing, clandestine group known as the Underground Railroad. Many consider the Underground Railroad to be the first great freedom movement in the Americas and the first time when people of different races and faiths worked together in harmony for freedom and justice. Through Darkness to Light: Photographs Along the Underground Railroad opens Friday, April 7, 2023 at the Temecula Valley Museum.
City of Temecula Mayor Zak Schwank commented, “The Temecula Valley Museum provides profound and quality exhibits for our community. This exhibit provides a stunning visual representation that leaves a lasting impression on visitors.”
Temecula’s Race, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Commission Chair Jackie Steed states, “This exhibit is a hauntingly beautiful representation of a very difficult period in our nation's history. Visitors will come away with a deeper understanding of that history and of those who lived it.”
Exhibit creator and photographer Jeanine Michna-Bales spent more than a decade meticulously researching those fleeing slavery and the ways they escaped. While the unnumbered routes of the Underground Railroad encompassed countless square miles, the path Michna-Bales documented encompasses roughly 2,000 miles and is based off actual sites, cities, and places that freedom seekers passed through during their journey.
Whether they were enslaved and trying to escape or free blacks and whites trying to help, both sides risked everything for the cause of freedom. From the cotton plantations south of Natchitoches, Louisiana, all the way north to the Canadian border, this powerful series of photographs by Michna-Bales helps us imagine what the long road to freedom may have looked like as seen through the eyes of one of those who made this epic journey. While many books have been written on the subject, there is very little visual documentation of the Underground Railroad because of its secretive nature.
Today, as America becomes more and more diverse, Michna-Bales believes that an understanding of the experience—and those who lived through it—is more relevant than ever. The Underground Railroad united people from different races, genders, social levels, religions, and regions in a common and worthwhile cause. It was the first civil rights movement within America.
Through Darkness to Light: Photographs Along the Underground Railroad encourages visitors to learn more, ask questions, and open a dialogue on the subject, and in the end, provide a better understanding of our origins. This exhibition features beautifully dramatic color photographs, ephemera, and narratives that together tell the story of the Underground Railroad.
In conjunction with the Through Darkness to Light exhibit, on Saturday, May 6, 2023, the museum will offer a free presentation, Quilts of the Emancipated. Textile Artist Allyson Allen will present her replica quilts created in honor of emancipated women who told their stories through quilt making, using applique techniques, and textiles of western Africa. The featured quilt is a replica of The Pictorial Quilt by emancipated slave Harriet Powers, which examines the juxtaposition of biblical stories along with real-life tales.
This exhibition was organized by ExhibitsUSA, a program of Mid-America Arts Alliance.
This exhibition is toured by ExhibitsUSA, a national program of Mid-America Arts Alliance. ExhibitsUSA sends more than twenty-five exhibitions on tour to over 100 small- and mid-sized communities every year. These exhibitions create access to an array of arts and humanities experiences, nurture the understanding of diverse cultures and art forms, and encourage the expanding depth and breadth of cultural life in local communities. For more about ExhibitsUSA, email MoreArt@maaa.org or visit eusa.org.
About Mid-America Arts Alliance
Mid-America Arts Alliance (M-AAA) strengthens and supports artists, cultural organizations, and communities throughout our region and beyond. We achieve this primarily through our national traveling exhibition programs, innovative leadership development, and strategic grant making. We are especially committed to enriching the cultural life of historically underserved communities by providing high-quality, meaningful, and accessible arts and culture programs and services. We believe in more art for more people. Additional information about M-AAA is available at maaa.org.
For more information and other fun online activities, please visit TemeculaValleyMuseum.org, or call (951) 694-6450.