New sculpture honors Underground Railroad
Sculptor Preston Jackson with “Passages to Freedom.”
‘Passages to Freedom’
Preston Jackson bronze sculpture commissioned by the College of Lake County’s Robert T. Wright Community Gallery of Art will be unveiled at 11 a.m. Saturday, June 16
33 N. Genesee St., CLC Lakeshore campus, Waukegan
9th annual Juneteenth Conference and Festival
Noon to 6 p.m. in the courtyard adjacent to the CLC Lakeshore campus
For more information, call (847) 543-2191
Updated: June 12, 2012 8:39PM
Providing shelter or “stations” along the way for slaves fleeing from the South to the North during the 1800s, many Lake County families opened their homes to African Americans seeking freedom. The late James Dorsey, a College of Lake County sociology professor, chronicled this history, and his work inspired artist Preston Jackson to create the bronze statue, “Passages to Freedom.”
The College of Lake County’s Robert T. Wright Community Gallery of Art commissioned Jackson, a celebrated artist of African American history, to create the piece that will be unveiled at the College’s Waukegan campus on June 16.
“It’s a pictorial story of a family held together through their own wit making a dramatic journey from slavery to freedom,” Jackson explained. “It depicts the mother and father of a family running through a swamp with a young child, a boy about 10 years old, out front. We see them passing through door-like structures through ship to freedom.
He describes it as a straightforward piece with the expressions obvious on the faces of the fleeing family. He traces his own African American roots to Monticello, Va., where he places this family beginning their trip on the Underground Railroad.
Jackson, 68, is a professor emeritus at the Art Institute of Chicago and has created hundreds of art pieces in bronze, plaster and acrylics. His art studio and gallery is in Chicago’s Printer’s Row, Preston Jackson Gallery, 600 S. Dearborn Parkway.
His work is admired by other artists also participating in the 9th annual Juneteenth Conference and Festival at the college this weekend.
“I’m extremely impressed with the statue being unveiled,” said Dr. Sandra LeConte, a professional soprano who will be performing Negro spirituals at the event. “I think the artist has done a wonderful job of portraying a family, father, mother and child fleeing to freedom by way of the Underground Railroad.”
A grandchild of freed slaves, LeConte of Round Lake Beach, grew up in Mobile, Ala., where she trained vocally singing Negro spirituals. She went on to study opera, gospel and jazz but enjoys singing the spirituals particularly for the younger generation to appreciate.
“I’ll be singing a capella, true to form of how the slaves sang it in the fields and through their escape,” said LeConte, who will perform such favorites as “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Go Down Moses,” and “Wade in the Water.”
“Juneteenth is extremely significant celebrating the emancipation of the slaves,” said LeConte.
The 9th Annual Juneteenth celebration will focus on “The Underground Railroad: Connections Through Community,” celebrating African American contributions to art, education, music and dance, community and Lake County’s contribution to the spirit of the abolition movement. There will be speeches, food, information and merchandise vendors, main stage performances, children’s activities, the CLC history tent and more.
According to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, during the 1800s, estimates suggest more than 100,000 enslaved people sought freedom through the Underground Railroad. Harriet Tubman is recognized as a symbol of many of those efforts and will be portrayed by Kathryn Harris, library services director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, at the event.
“She’s the most famous conductor of the Underground Railroad,” explained Harris, “a brave woman committed to the cause of freedom.”
Tubman traveled almost 300 miles from Dorchester County, Maryland, to Philadelphia, mostly on foot to find freedom and returned to help others do the same, Harris said. She helped slaves move from “one station to another,” said Harris, who performs a monologue of Tubman’s story, then encourages the audience to ask questions.
Although records vary, Harris speculates that Tubman, only age 24 at the time of her freedom, saved 300 slaves during 19 trips from as far south as northern Georgia to as far north as Canada during a nine-year period. She took her last trip on the Underground Railroad in 1860, living until her 90s in Auburn, N.Y., according to Harris, who celebrates Tubman’s freedom in her portrayals.
“I loved her before I started,” Harris said, “she was one of my childhood heroines; I admired how brave and courageous she was as a black woman for the cause of freedom.”