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The Underground Railroad is not only taught about in documentaries and books, for some, it continues to live and offer inspiration of freedmen and women.
No one embodies this sentiment more than West Philadelphia’s Kenneth Johnston, who has always had a deep admiration and love for Harriet Tubman and her tireless work of liberating enslaved Black people.
Recently Johnston put on his walking shoes to follow the same trail Tubman once blazed.
On Saturday, Johnston, 61, completed a 400+ mile trek, which he’s dubbed a Walk to Freedom. His historic journey led him across New York state and along the routes of the Underground Railroad, stopping by historic Black sites and communities to commemorate the trip in real-time.
Beginning in July, Johnston’s first stop was the Harriet Tubman Memorial in Harlem, New York. He continued on through the Hudson River Valley, across central New York, and ended his walks at the British Methodist Episcopal Church — the same church Tubman attended in Ontario, Canada.
“I was amazed,” Johnston said of his experience. “It was an incredible journey walking across New York state, particularly from Albany to Buffalo … visiting many of the known Underground Railroad communities.”
Kenneth Johnston isn’t new to it, he’s true to it.
This isn’t the first time he’s performed a Walk to Freedom. Previously in December 2019, Johnston replicated Tubman’s journey to rescue her brothers in 1854 by walking 140 miles along the shores of the Choptank River in Maryland to Philadelphia. Johnston, who completed his 2019 journey in six weeks, said Tubman completed the trek in only four days, “which still blows my mind.”
During his voyage to Canada, Johnston visited historic sites like the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center, where he learned how the free Black community was instrumental in helping to shelter those traveling to Canada in search of freedom. He also stopped by the Cataract House, a hotel that employed many of the enslaved people as waiters. The hotel staff often served as agents for the Underground Railroad.
Johnston said he felt a spiritual connection in certain places he stopped, like the African burial ground in Kinderhook, New York, where over 500 Black bodies were buried.
“In that place, that’s where you could feel that they were at peace,” he said. In other places, like a Dutch farm in Rotterdam Junction, New York, maintained by the Schenectady County Historical Society, Johnston said he could feel the unsettled spirits of those who were enslaved that still had “a lot of angst in them.”
It takes a village.
Despite unavoidable challenges during his Walk to Freedom along the Underground Railroad, Johnston said he received a lot of assistance along the way. He received support from Black and Quaker communities during his journey, with one biracial family even inviting him into their house to stay for the night.
He also met Drink Like a Girl! founder Kelly Guilfoyle in Geneva, New York. Johnston said Guilfoyle helped him locate hotels that sponsored his stay for free. Johnston also found help from those online, receiving over $3,000 in donations for travel expenses from the GoFundMe account he had set up in July.
Information in this article was obtained via NBC News. Read the full story here.