WIN: Momentum Growing for Restoration of Quinn Chapel and Recognition of Freedom Trail, an Underground Railroad Initiative

“At 180 years old, Quinn Chapel A.M.E. has been around for nearly all of Chicago’s modern history.

“It formed as a seven-person prayer band in 1844, worshiping inside the homes of its members and an old schoolhouse in the Loop. They organized under the African Methodist Episcopal Church a few years later and began meeting at what is now the Monadnock Building on Jackson Boulevard. Damaged in the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 and rebuilt in Bronzeville, the church has hosted luminaries from Frederick Douglass to Dr. Martin Luther King and Barack Obama, and served as the filming site for several television shows and movies.

“But one of the church’s most important contributions to history is also one of its first: serving as a stop on the Underground Railroad.

“Not long after its founding, Quinn’s small group of congregants, many of whom were former slaves and abolitionists, rallied to help enslaved people traveling to Northern cities or Canada via an Underground Railroad route from Chicago to Detroit, according to the Chicago Public Library.

“They stepped up their efforts after Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which said those believed to be escaping enslavement would be returned to their ‘owners’ if arrested, even if they were found in a free state with papers confirming they were free people.

“Nearly two centuries later, now operating from its longtime home at 2401 S. Wabash Ave., leaders and congregants are still working to preserve the church’s rich history.

“The church is collaborating with preservationists and historians to get the National Park Service to recognize the Chicago To Detroit Freedom Trail, a recreation of the Underground Railroad route.

“The modern-day trail would spotlight Quinn Chapel and Olivet Baptist Church in Douglas, another historic Black church that also served as a stop.

“‘It runs through our blood,’ said Pastor Troy K. Venning, who has served in his role since 2019. ‘It kind of is who we are. There is no Quinn Chapel without the conversation about the Underground Railroad, because at our roots, our founders were settled on making sure that Black and Brown people were OK, making sure the folks who sought freedom were able to.’

“Church leaders also are working to restore the aging building, with plans to build a museum in the basement for an onsite archive of its history and contributions to the Underground Railroad.

“Around 3,000 to 4,500 freedom seekers came to and through the Chicago area prior to the Civil War, said Larry McClellan, a historian and retired professor who has researched the Underground Railroad for decades. Nearly all continued on toward Detroit and Canada, he said.” (McDonald, Block Club Chicago, 2/8/24)

Preservation Chicago has been working closely with community partners to advance the Freedom Trail Underground Railroad Project. We are excited about this project and the progress that is being made. We played an important role in the recent recognition of the Jan and Aagje Ton Farm was the first Underground Railroad site in Chicago in September 2022.

Read the full story at Block Club Chicago


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