Pictured above: Freshmen Kearsten Dampman, left, and Bailey Downing study quilts that display symbols used to communicate coded messages along the Underground Railroad. The quilts contain patterns which were drawn on the ground to pass messages to escaping slaves. | Photo by Leah Nelson

The Sweet Chariot program gave students a glimpse into the history of the Underground Railroad and the lives of runaway slaves.

More than 85 students attended. They watched an informative video of the Underground Railroad to learn how it operated and heard a lecture from Jeannie Whayne, an American history professor.

During Sweet Chariot, Jeannie Whayne, an American history professor, described what slaves’ lives were like and how difficult it was for them to runaway.

“I hope students learned something new about the Underground Railroad. People in the current political society can see why it’s important to know in today’s society,” said Mitchell Foster, one of the event coordinators.

Foster is the coordinator for residence education at Holcombe and Futrall Halls. He said he enjoyed researching information for the event and learned a lot by digging deeper to teach students something new.

Students were encouraged to interact with the program by writing words on pieces of fabric, stating how they felt at the end of the exhibit or something they would remember because of the event. The pieces of fabric eventually made a quilt, with words serving as a reminder of America’s past.

Bailey Downing, a freshman from Mansfield, Texas said she heard about the event from her resident assistant and decided to attend. Downing majors in engineering and lives in Humphreys Hall.

Taulbee Gunter, a junior resident assistant for Founders attended Sweet Chariot because she attended last year and learned a lot. This year she learned while many slaves ran to the North for freedom, some went to Mexico.

“It was interesting to learn about the quilts and their meanings,” Downing said.

Underground Railroad guides used symbols to communicate to slaves to help them escape or get the help they needed. Downing said the ‘Shoo Fly’ was her favorite. The quilt’s pattern was code from a guide saying they could help a slave escape.

Whayne explained to students that slaves had a difficult time running away because they were family oriented and didn’t want to leave their family behind. She told stories of slaves who’d run away successfully, but came back to try to rescue their families. Some of these slaves escaped many times, but they were continuously recaptured once they came back for their families.

Kearsten Dampman, a freshman from Katy, Texas, said she was surprised to hear that slaves came back once they’d already escaped slavery. Dampman is majors in nursing and lives in Yocum Hall. 

Sweet Chariot was held Feb. 13 in the Yocum Hall basement. It is a multicultural competency component of University Housing’s @Home series. The @Home series consists of signature events during the 2018-2019 academic year that focus on promoting academic success, personal development and multicultural competency.