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Thursday, October 6, 2016

This 80-Year-Old Grandmother Once Walked Hundreds of Miles to Retrace the Underground Railroad

Joan Southgate, founder of Restore Cleveland Hope

Cleveland, OH — Back in 2002, Joan Southgate, a retired Cleveland social worker and grandmother of nine, used to walk a daily mile for exercise – “an old lady stroll,” as she described it. Then one day she says she felt a calling to praise her ancestors who walked hundreds of miles to freedom: She decided to retrace their steps along the Underground Railroad.

So, at age 73, Southgate began walking the 519 miles from Ripley, Ohio to St. Catharines, Ontario, Harriet Tubman’s terminus on the Underground Railroad. Traveling 10 miles a day, she visited Underground Railroad sites, gave presentations at schools, and slept in the homes of welcoming strangers, her own “safe houses.”

Cleveland’s Underground Railroad codename was “Hope” and Southgate, motivated by her pilgrimage, founded Restore Cleveland Hope to save the city’s only remaining Underground Railroad house from demolition. To raise money for the project, Southgate, at age 80, walked another 250 miles from Canada back to Cleveland, completing the final mile with 170 companions inspired by her journey.

Back in in 2014, the house opened as an Underground Railroad teaching center where people can learn “what is possible in the way of changing the world and loving people.”

Her organization, Restore Cleveland Hope, Inc., also aims to celebrate Cleveland’s historic anti-slavery past through the establishment and operation of an Underground Railroad education and resource center in the historic Cozad-Bates House. Interested ones can drive past and take a look at the beautiful Cozad-Bates house in Cleveland, Ohio at the corner of Mayfield and East 115th Street (between Euclid and Little Italy). The address is 11508 Mayfield Road.

For more details about Joan Southgate and Restore Cleveland Hope, visit www.restoreclevelandhope.org