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International Underground Railroad Month: Rev. William J. Simmons

In 2019, Maryland proclaimed September as International Underground Railroad Month because it was the month that well known #freedomseekers and #UGRRAgents #FrederickDouglass and #HarrietTubman escaped from slavery. In 2020, both Maryland and Michigan, in partnership with the #NationalParkService #NationalUndergroundRailroadNetworkToFreedom, are working to include more states in the celebration.

No disrespect to the contributions of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and the Quakers to the #UndergroundRailroad, but we need to go beyond those themes and seek out new stories of people and places connected to the Underground Railroad.

One fascinating example is Baptist leader, educator, and author #RevWilliamJSimmons. He was born enslaved in #CharlestonSouthCarolina in June 1849. While still young, Simmons, his mother, and his two sisters escaped on a vessel and were taken to their uncle in #Philadelphia. Simmons eventually relocated to Kentucky, where he served as the 2nd president of the #KentuckyNormalAndTheologicalInstitute (eventually renamed #SimmonsCollege in his honor).

However, he is most known for his seminal 1887 book, Men of Mark, which included over 100 short biographies of prominent 19th century African American men. It was sold exclusively through subscription and was not available in book stores. The book has been hailed as the "single most authoritative work on nineteenth century African Americans." The digitized version is available through Google Books; UNC's Documenting the South Website; and HathiTrust. This extremely rare edition is housed within the Nanny Jack & Co Archives.

Before his untimely death in 1890, Simmons had been working on Women of Mark, a book documenting notable 19th century African American women.

Cabinet card of Simmons colorized courtesy of #DeOldify and #MyHeritage

Courtesy of Nanny Jack & Co Archives

#NegroHistoryDetective 🕵🏽‍♂️

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