May 7, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Underground Railroad site entering recorded history

an old white building with a brown roof sits on grass. there are trees around. The sky is  full of white cloudss.

The Jackson Ranch Church, a stop on the the Underground Railroad to Mexico, in San Juan, Texas. Photo: Courtesy of Roseann Bacha-Garza.

A site along the U.S.-Mexico border where enslaved people passed while using the Underground Railroad into Mexico is getting important recognition from the U.S. National Park Service.

Why it matters: Historians believe that between 4,000 to 10,000 enslaved Black people may have taken the trek south, yet there's been little documentation and mentions in history books about the Underground Railroad to Mexico.

Zoom in: The NPS announced last month that its National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program will now include the Jackson Ranch Church and Martin Jackson Cemetery, located in San Juan, Texas, which once served as a gateway to Mexico for enslaved people seeking freedom.

  • The NPS network consists of more than 700 sites, programs, and facilities with a verifiable connection to the Underground Railroad. Most sites are connected to the more well-known Underground Railroad of the North, an organized system that helped enslaved people escape to Canada.
  • The Jackson site is one of 19 new listings added this year.

What they're saying: Including the Jackson site in the NPS network is an important step in eventually getting a historic site designation, Roseann Bacha-Garza, a program manager for the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley's Community Historical Archaeology Project with Schools, tells Axios.

Context: The Underground Railroad to Mexico was a loosely organized path allowing enslaved Black people in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Alabama to escape bondage by fleeing south.

Flashback: The Jackson site is part of a ranch started by Nathaniel Jackson, a white man from Alabama, and his wife, Matilda Hicks, a Black woman who had been enslaved. Hicks and Jackson were childhood sweethearts.

  • According to historians, as an adult Jackson later purchased the freedom of Matilda Hicks and her children and moved to South Texas before the U.S. Civil War.
  • There, they led a covert operation that helped enslaved Black people cross into Mexico.

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