Birmingham’s Greenwood Cemetery may be listed on a national registry of Underground Railroad sites.

Birmingham’s Greenwood Cemetery may be listed on a national registry of Underground Railroad sites.

File photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Greenwood Cemetery applies to National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom

By: Mary Genson | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published January 26, 2022


BIRMINGHAM — Local researchers have uncovered a part of Birmingham’s history that ties back to the Underground Railroad. 

The Birmingham Museum is working through the process of adding the Greenwood Cemetery, the final resting site of George Taylor and Elijah Fish, to the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.

Birmingham resident and historian George Getschman and a group of volunteer researchers found the obituary of Taylor and his wife, Eliza. They died six months apart around 1901. From this document, they learned that Taylor was African American and formerly enslaved.

According to the obituary and other documents found, Taylor fled enslavement in Kentucky on foot and eventually connected with the Underground Railroad. He came to the Oakland County area first, but did not stay in Michigan the whole time as he spent some time in Kansas. However, he and his wife later returned and settled in Birmingham for the remainder of their lives.

“It’s been very exciting to find out all this stuff, and his escape is quite a story, and I’m sure very similar to so many escaped slaves of what they went through to get up north and to get an area where they weren’t persecuted,” Greenwood Cemetary Advisory Board Chair Linda Buchanan said.

Taylor is thought to be the first African American property owner in Birmingham. Leslie Pielack explained that he worked on a farm somewhere in the Evergreen Road and 13 Mile Road area for a number of years until he decided to build a house in the 1890s. His property was settled on what is now downtown Birmingham.

During the process of researching Taylor, the museum also focused on looking into abolitionists from the area at that time. Museum Assistant Donna Casaceli found newspaper notices that identified Elijah Fish.

Fish was an abolitionist very early on in the 1800s, and he came to Birmingham to buy property around 1820. He was a very religious person who prioritized human rights, and he was the founder of the First Presbyterian Church in Birmingham.

“Elijah Fish was not only active in the abolition movement, but he actually brought people to the little tiny town — at the time — of Birmingham to speak on anti-slavery issues,” Pielack said. 

Fish was involved with the Underground Railroad as he helped people get through Michigan and into Canada so they could purchase land and be self-sustaining.

Once the Birmingham Museum found this information about these two men, they reached out to the regional coordinator for the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. After they were encouraged to apply, they filled out the required detailed application and gathered their resources to support their assertion that the site should qualify. 

Their application has been forwarded to the review committee, which consists of historians who assess applications from around the country. Pielack said she is unsure of how long it will be until they hear back about the status of the application. 

Pielack said that this honorable designation would be beneficial to the local community as the city would be a part of national history. 

“I think we all need to understand as much of the whole story as we can,” Pielack said. “It’s pretty amazing in a little town like Birmingham that I don’t think people realize it had that kind of activity going on around it, but it did. So we want to be able to tell that whole story.”