LifestyleBlack History Month


How Native Americans played a crucial role in Wisconsin's Underground Railroad

Posted at 7:06 AM, Feb 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-03 08:33:27-05

MILWAUKEE — This Black History Month, we share how Native Americans played a crucial role in the Underground Railroad for one family.

We spoke to Potawatomi historian Michael Zimmerman Jr. about the courageous acts that helped one man and his children escape slavery and find freedom.

The family escaped in St. Louis, Missouri in the 1850s and used the Underground Railroad to make it to Ontario, Canada.

Zimmerman says the Stockbridge-Munsee Tribal Nation played a crucial role in their survival. The historian says they took in and hid the family but knew time was running out, as people were searching for them.

“People asking questions around the reservation that are not from there that are specifically looking for these individuals,” said Zimmerman.

That is when the Native Americans reached out to two white missionaries in Green Bay for help.

“They were abolitionists themselves and they were known from time to time to help out different slaves from different areas, “ said Zimmerman. “They actually held them in a belfry for about four days.”

Under the cover of night, they secured a steamboat on Lake Michigan to take them to Ontario, Canada.

Countless stories like these can be told by tribal nations during the Underground Railroad.

This account alone shows how acts of compassion can resonate with us, more than 160 years later.

Report a typo or error // Submit a news tip