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Exhibit examines little-known piece of Underground Railroad

By: Kayla Dimick | Southfield Sun | Published February 6, 2015

 Librarian intern Alicia Bell stands by the “Pathways to Freedom” traveling display Jan. 31 on its debut at the Southfield Public Library.

Librarian intern Alicia Bell stands by the “Pathways to Freedom” traveling display Jan. 31 on its debut at the Southfield Public Library.

Photo by Donna Agusti

When we think of the Underground Railroad — the network that led slaves of African-descent to freedom — it’s possible we think of hidden passageways leading to free states in the U.S., or even Canada.

However, according to “Pathways to Freedom,” an exhibit on the second floor of the Southfield Public Library, 26000 Evergreen Road, slaves also took routes south to Mexico to be free.

Barbara Talley, project coordinator for the exhibit and the Martin Luther King Jr. Taskforce founder, said the exhibit was created from a partnership through Wayne State University and the University of Guerrero in Mexico, at which her daughter, Patricia Ann, is a professor.

Talley said her daughter, an African-American from the U.S., met and befriended Afro-Mexican Candelaria Donají Méndez Tello, from Mexico, at the university. Together, they started discussing the similarities and differences between their ancestors, who were brought to the Americas through the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

“Some people don’t really know the connection between Afro-Mexicans and African-Americans,” Talley said.

Talley said that in addition to Wayne State, the University of Guerrero, and the MLK Taskforce, Marygrove College and Eastern Michigan University aided in the research of the topic.

After all the research was concluded, the MLK Taskforce was able to put together the exhibit through a grant from the Michigan Humanities Council, the DTE Energy Foundation, MGM Grand Detroit, St. John Providence Hospital and the Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Officially titled “Pathways to Freedom in the Americas: Shared Experience between Michigan and Mexico,” the exhibit features photos, videos, maps, art and music to depict slave life in the Americas.

“It’s a big pop-up display,” said outreach librarian Kelly Rembert. “It’s 10 feet tall and 40 feet long, and it has text in both Spanish and English.”

Rembert said this is the exhibit’s first time at the library, but it has been featured in the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and the Detroit Historical Society.

“It’s quite an exciting revelation that people don’t know all these things, all this research we’ve done,” Talley said. “Also, the second president of Mexico, Vicente Gurrero, freed the slaves in 1829, and America didn’t free the slaves until 1865, so that’s what the story is.”

The exhibit will be on display at the library until March 11.