The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center’s mission is to pursue inclusive freedom by promoting social justice for all. Since its opening in 2004, it has illuminated the true meaning of inclusive freedom through inspirational exhibits, along with public programming and educational resources that equip modern abolitionists. Now, in its first substantial refresh since opening, the Freedom Center will double its collections storage area, allowing it to share its mission with a larger audience.
The Historic Preservation Fund, administered by the National Park Service, recently awarded the Freedom Center a grant of $500,000 to support the preservation of stories and artifacts critical to the shared American experience.
“The grant will allow us to focus on our physical collection space, which includes getting the equipment necessary to preserve many of our materials in a controlled environment,” says Stephanie M. Lampkin, Ph.D., Curator at the Freedom Center.
The John Parker Library and Family Search Center, which provides genealogy resources — including personalized assistance in tracing ancestry — will also expand. A brand-new area will let visitors conduct research on topics outside of African American genealogy and history.
As the Freedom Center’s physical space begins to expand, Lampkin and her team plan to grow the size of their collections as well.
“There are so many narratives throughout American history that we want to build active, inclusive collections around,” Lampkin says.
In addition to sharing stories from the Civil War and Underground Railroad era, the Freedom Center hopes to shine a spotlight on everything from post-Civil War and Reconstruction to the Jim Crow era and the Great Depression; from World War II to the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. More contemporary movements, such as LGBTQ+ rights and reproductive justice, will also be highlighted.
“This explosion of topics challenges us to look beyond the Civil War and do a deeper dive into Reconstruction and how it connects to today,” Lampkin explains. “In doing so, we’re able to tell a more coherent story that starts with early abolitionists, moves through the anti-slavery movement and continues into present-day social justice.”
As new collections develop, materials must be obtained to provide context, and the Freedom Center is asking for your help.
“We’re asking members of our community, both locally and nationally, to consider donating items with historical significance that can help illuminate the stories we’re looking to tell,” Lampkin says. “We’re seeking a broad range of materials — anything from diaries, journals and photographs to textiles, uniforms, instruments and even protest signs.”
Lampkin notes that items people may not think belong in a museum, such as buttons from the Women’s March on Washington or armbands from the Black Lives Matter protests, are critical in educating future generations.
“The opportunity to expand our collection storage area is an open invitation to expand our story,” Lampkin says. “Our role in this is to be responsible stewards. Our goal in sharing these materials is to give a new audience access to those stories.”
Expansion of the Freedom Center will conclude in the fall of 2026.
Want to learn more about the Freedom Center’s collections and storage expansion? Visit freedomcenter.org for more information. If you would like to donate an item you believe is of historical significance, you can do so by filling out an acquisition review form on the website.