The Ottumwa Courier

March 10, 2014

Neb. students study histories of ex-slaves in Iowa


Ottumwa Courier

---- — DAVENPORT, Iowa (AP) — A Nebraska high school social studies class is digging around in a neighboring state to learn more about the lives of slaves who escaped the South and made their way to eastern Iowa in the 1800s.

Barry Jurgensen, a social studies teacher at Arlington Senior High School in eastern Nebraska, took his honors class 320 miles away to Davenport on Friday. The group visited museums, cemeteries, churches and the public library over the weekend to learn more about the Underground Railroad and the lives of those who had escaped slavery, the Quad-City Times reported (http://bit.ly/1lIZvqk ).

One student, Samantha Hoppe, 16, is concentrating on Milton Howard, who was kidnapped as a child in Muscatine County and sold into slavery before he eventually escaped the South, joined the Union army and settled in Davenport.

Aspects of Howard's story are similar to that of Solomon Northup, whose memoir has been made famous in the Oscar-winning movie, "12 Years a Slave."

"Milton Howard has one of the more incredible stories," said Jurgensen. "He never wrote about it. So we're going to write it down."

After making his way to Davenport, Howard married and raised his family there.

In 1866, he got a job at the Rock Island Arsenal, where he worked for 52 years, Davenport Public Library records show.

Hoppe has learned Iowa played a big role in the Underground Railroad.

"This has opened my eyes," she said. "It's about everyone trying to get free and everyone who helped them. Iowa played a big part in that."

Jurgensen's students research and nominate sites to the Network to Freedom, an initiative of the National Park Service that works to preserve the history of the Underground Railroad.

In the past three years, the class added nine sites to the national listing, mostly from Nebraska. This school year, Jurgensen said his class hopes to add three sites in Ohio and two in Iowa, including Oakdale Memorial Gardens.

The school board in Jurgensen's district has been supportive but doesn't have the funds for his out-of-state trips, he said. Instead, students raise money for the trips.

Jurgensen, an Iowa native, said he discovered Milton Howard "by accident" while his students were researching another former slave.

"Davenport seemed to be the place African-Americans felt safe enough to settle after civil rights," he said.

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Information from: Quad-City Times, http://www.qctimes.com