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Freedom Center issues nationwide call for objects to give a 'more complete American history'

button reading: March on Washington For Jobs & Freedom August 28, 1963. Image shows two hands shaking.
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
The Freedom Center is looking for objects that tell the story of freedom from the turn of the last century through today like this button from the March on Washington For Jobs & Freedom on August 28, 1963.

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is turning to the nation to expand its collections. The museum in Cincinnati is seeking donations of objects from across the country that represent firsthand experiences of marginalized communities — these could be diaries, letters, family scrapbooks, uniforms, protest signs and more.

"This is an opportunity to build space for a more complete American history that reflects our diverse communities locally, regionally and nationally," says Curator Stephanie Lampkin, Ph.D.

While the Freedom Center tells the history of the Underground Railroad, it's also focused on larger concepts of modern day, global and local freedom. The museum has a $500,000 grant from the Historic Preservation Fund, administered by the National Park Service, to double its collections storage area and build a research-level archival system.

Magazine cover for Ebony reading: Biggest Protest March in History and showing a mass of people with signs
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

RELATED: Cincinnati's Underground Railroad Freedom Center played a big role in the national tribute to Harriet Tubman

The museum is particularly interested in primary source materials representing the experiences of people of color, women, children, immigrants, the LGBTQ+ community and those with differing abilities, as those are frequently missing and under-told.

"We're looking for objects ... (and) items that speak to and address issues of racial equality, economic empowerment, LGBTQ+ rights, criminal justice, climate justice, voting rights, all of those things," says Cody Hefner, vice president of marketing and communications. "Especially from the turn of the 20th century, so late 1800s through the 20th century — that's where we're really looking to expand our collections — to tell that story of Reconstruction, of Jim Crow, World War II and civil rights movements all the way through the Black Power and Black Lives Matter movements; so we can better tell a complete story of this American push towards equity and social justice."

RELATED: Ohio launches Historical Underground Railroad Trail

Examples of items include: diaries, journals and personal letters, sketches and illustrations, broadsides, historic photographs and labor contracts, and three-dimensional objects including clothing and uniforms, tools, protest signs and instruments.

newspaper broadsheet for The Liberator
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
A copy of 'The Liberator' newspaper.

How to donate

Anyone interested in donating items can fill out an acquisition review request on the Freedom Center's website. Be sure to include photos of your item(s) but do not send or drop-off the items themselves. Potential donations will be reviewed by the curatorial team based on condition, historical interest, the item's history (provenance), and the museum's ability to properly store and care for the material.

The review process will take 30 days. If an item is accepted, the donor will receive a Deed of Gift transferring ownership. The Freedom Center notes its staff aren't able to authenticate or appraise objects and you should contact an appraisal company if you're seeking that service.

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.