‘Through Darkness to Light’


The Evanston History Center and the Evanston Art Center present the midwest premiere of Jeanine Michna-Bales’ haunting and inspiring photographs taken along the paths that led from slavery to freedom, “Through Darkness to Light: Photographs Along the Underground Railroad.” 

The exhibit will be on view at the two locations from Jan. 28 through March 16.

An opening reception will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 28, at the Evanston History Center.

An opening reception will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 29, at the Evanston Art Center.

Both receptions are free and open to the public.

The exhibit, which includes beautifully dramatic color photographs, ephemera and narratives that together tell the story of the Underground Railroad, features photographer Jeanine Michna-Bales’ haunting and stirring images of sites and views along the Underground Railroad.

Michna-Bales spent more than a decade meticulously researching the ways enslaved people escaped to freedom. While the unnumbered routes of the Underground Railroad encompassed countless square miles, the path Michna-Bales documented with her camera covers roughly 1,400 miles of actual sites, cities and places that the freedom-seekers passed through in their journey to escape the insidious system of slavery.

They left during the middle of the night—often carrying little more than the knowledge that moss grows on the north side of trees. An estimated 100,000 enslaved people between 1830 and the end of the Civil War in 1865 chose to embark on this journey in search of freedom.

They moved in constant fear of being killed or recaptured, returned, and beaten as an example of what would happen to others who might choose to run. Under the cover of darkness, “fugitives” traveled roughly twenty miles each night traversing rugged terrain while enduring all the hardships that Mother Nature could bring to bear.

Occasionally, they were guided from one secret, safe location to the next by an ever-changing, clandestine group known as the Underground Railroad. Many consider the Underground Railroad to be the first great freedom movement in America, a time when people of different races and faiths worked together in harmony for freedom and justice.

Whether they were enslaved people trying to escape or free blacks and whites trying to help, both sides risked everything for the cause of freedom. Picturing sites from the cotton plantations south of Natchitoches, Louisiana, all the way north to the Canadian border, the photographs by Michna-Bales help us imagine what the long road to freedom may have looked like as seen through the eyes of one of those who made this epic journey.

Jeanine Michna-Bales will appear at the Evanston History Center at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017, to discuss her work and sign copies of her new book, Through Darkness to Light: Photographs Along the Underground Railroad (2017). Visit evanstonhistorycenter.org for more information or to make a reservation.

The Lombard Historical Society, an EHC partner, will also host Jeanine Michna-Bales for a presentation at the Sheldon Peck Homestead, a verified Underground Railroad site, at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 22. For more information, please visit lombardhistory.org.

Exhibit Locations and Hours:

Evanston History Center, 225 Greenwood St., Thursdays through Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. Free with museum admission. EHC members: Free.

Evanston Art Center, 1717 Central St, Mondays through Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Fridays 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Free.

The exhibition was organized by ExhibitsUSA, a program of Mid-America Arts Alliance.

The Evanston History Center also hosts “Legacies,” an exhibit exploring the history of the African-American community in Evanston and on the North Shore.

The exhibit highlights the history of both individuals and organizations and the search for freedom. The exhibit, created by Shorefront Legacy Center in Evanston, runs from Jan. 28 to March 16.


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