By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A center city arts center is hosting a festival of events that tells the rich history of the Underground Railroad in Philadelphia.

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Most people have heard of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass and the Underground Railroad — a secret network of people who helped enslaved African-American men and women escape the South during the 19th century.

But not nearly as many know the Underground Railroad’s connection to Philadelphia and the contributions of local legends like William Still, Robert Purvis, and Lucretia Mott.

“Almost every ship coming from the south stopped in Philadelphia, as well as the trains, as well as the wagons,” notes Larry Robin, director of Moonstone Art Center, at 13th and Sansom Streets in center city (the site of the former Robin’s Bookstore).

The center is hosting a series called “Hidden History,” which focuses on events that are not in the history books but are significant in the quest for freedom in America.

(A newspaper distributed by the Moonstone Arts Center  contains items from the days of the Underground Railroad.)

(A newspaper distributed by the Moonstone Arts Center contains items from the days of the Underground Railroad.)


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“The Underground Railroad in Philadelphia” is the latest program, and includes lectures, workshops, and tours based in large part on research by historian Charles Blockson.  The events will tell the individual stories of Philadelphia legends and take attendees to historic sites throughout the city.

“For example, James Forten and Robert Purvis were the two richest black people in Philadelphia, and were part of an upper class society that existed,” says Robin (top photo), who notes that the duo helped purchase enslaved men and women and set them free.

“These are adventure stories of people risking everything for freedom, both black and white, both male and female,” he says.

Robin says an estimated 100,000 people escaped through the Underground Railroad, with 40,000 coming through Philadelphia.

Lectures, workshops, tours, and more take place at various venues throughout October.  Details at



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