Slavery Under Glass

New black-history museums try to balance authenticity and uplift

Although most visitors to the new Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, will approach it from the side facing downtown, that's actually the rear of the building. The glass-walled main entry is on the other side, facing south across the banks of the Ohio River. The center turns its face in that direction for good reason. The river is at the heart of the story it will tell. In the mid-19th century, those waters were a fateful dividing line. Separating free-soil Ohio from slave-owning Kentucky, they were a desperate crossing point for runaway slaves. The river's north banks were the...

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