Tabor Played Unique Role In Black, American History
When compiling a list of historic sites and museums across America one might visit to learn more about Black history, there are some obvious places that come to mind.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis and the Edmund Pettus Bridge and National Voting Rights Museum in Selma, Ala.
Closer to home , there’s the Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis - where the Dred Scott case was heard - and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.
You’ve probably heard or visited some of these places but did you know there’s an important piece of anti-slavery history right here in our own backyard?
Yes, Tabor, Iowa.
I know most people probably wouldn’t think of this small town in southwest Iowa being a place you’d go to learn about the Abolitionist Movement but Tabor truly has a fascinating story that isn’t talked about nearly enough.
During the antebellum years leading up to the Civil War, Tabor was a cog in the Abolitionist Movement.
The Todd House, home of Congregational Church minister John Todd, one of Tabor’s founding fathers, was a “station” on the Underground Railroad - a network of routes, places, buildings and people that helped slaves escape the South in hopes of finding ing freedom in northern states.
Homes, barns, churches and businesses which served as shelters on the Underground Railroad were known as “stations” and the people who assisted and guided the slaves on their journey became known as “conductors.”
An estimated 100,000 slaves are believed to have traveled the route of the Underground Railroad. Tabor was one of three major stoppiing points in southwest Iowa, along with Lewis and Corning. It was common for the freedom-seeking slaves to pass through Tabor and stay overnight at the Todd House. They were often escorted by abolitionist leader John Brown, who visited Tabor frequently.
Today the nearly 170 year-old Todd House stands as a reminder and tribute to the abolitionists in Tabor who assisted the slaves during one of the most significant periods in our nation’s history. The house is preserved to look like it did in the mid 19th Century and contains many historical artifacts from the Todd family, the former Tabor College and the town’s early days.
The Todd House and an adjacent museum building are both open to the public but require an appointment in advance.
“The Todd House, frankly, is the crown jewel of southwest Iowa when it comes to antebellum issues like the Underground Railroad because it is the original house,” said Harry Wilkens, vice president and archivist for the Tabor Historical Society. “There’s only three others in Iowa.”
To their credit, Wilkens and others in the Tabor Historical Society are stepping up their effort to share and promote Tabor’s unique history. The effort includes development of a powerpoint presentation that’s available to groups and placement of a sign in the city park commemorating the town’s participation in the Underground Railroad.
Tabor has a unique history that many people here in southwest Iowa aren’t aware of. It’s certainly a history that doesn’t get the attention or appreciation it deserves.