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Item connected to Margaret Garner on display at the Freedom Center

Cast iron pot tells a powerful story

CINCINNATI – The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center has brought a piece of local history home. A large cast iron pot believed to have belonged to Margaret Garner is now on display in the From Slavery to Freedom exhibit, where it will remain on display over the next year. Margaret Garner’s story is a startling and heartbreaking window into the world of chattel slavery in the United States.

Margaret Garner potThe large cast iron pot was excavated from the Gaines plantation in northern Kentucky and is on loan to the Freedom Center. The pot was a common cooking vessel used by many rural Americans, both black and white, and was often used to prepare food for large groups of people. The pot will help tell story of Margaret Garner and all of freedom’s heroes. The pot is on display in the From Slavery to Freedom exhibit.

Margaret Garner was born and grew up a slave on the Gaines plantation in northern Kentucky. In 1856, she and several other slaves escaped to Cincinnati over the frozen Ohio River at daybreak. Margaret, her husband and four children made their way to the house of her uncle, a former slave who lived along Mill Creek. Garner and her family waited as abolitionist Levi Coffin prepared to help them leave the city that night. Before he returned, several US Marshals and slave catchers had surrounded the property and stormed the house. As Garner was about to be captured and returned to slavery, she killed her two-year-old daughter, believing a life of abuse and degradation at the hands of another person was worse than death. She was subdued by marshals before she could kill her other children.

Garner’s actions are a heart-wrenching example of the effects of slavery and the emotional, mental and physical abuse slavery imposed on its victims. It became the inspiration for Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Beloved.

“Though it happened in Cincinnati, Margaret Garner’s story is a uniquely national story about the horrors of slavery,” says C.G. Newsome, PhD, president of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. “Imagine the incredible toll slavery took on a person to drive them to such extreme actions. Garner’s story is one of pain and degradation, but also courage and enlightenment, opening the eyes of a nation to the terrible plague around them.”

Guests can also experience Margaret Garner’s story through A Mother’s Heart, a play in three acts. The story is brought to life by Novella Nimmo, a historical re-enactor at the Freedom Center. The play was developed using historical documents, images and narratives and is performed at 11:15 a.m., 1:15 and 3:15 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.