An Iowa native who’s teaching history in a Nebraska high school is starting out today in eastern Nebraska, planning to walk 500 miles through Iowa and on to Chicago to call attention to modern-day slavery.
“What I’d really like to do is help people become aware of this social injustice by using history of how we resisted slavery, so I’ll be following the Underground Railroad from Nebraska City to Chicago.”
Barry Jurgensen and his high school students in Arlington, Nebraska, were inspired by the story of two female slaves who escaped 158 years ago. Their path to freedom began in Nebraska City, Nebraska.
“Those two young women were just extremely inspirational to me because as I continue to research slavery, I realize that their story closely parallels the story of young boys and girls that are being enslaved today,” Jurgensen says.
Jurgensen says Eliza Grayson and a woman history remembers only as Celia were slaves to a Virginia family that moved to Nebraska City, but the women were able to escape with help from people involved in the Underground Railroad.
Jurgensen, who grew up in Denison, says he hopes his walk inspires people to do what they can today to help those who are trapped in the sex trade or in forced labor.
“It’s difficult for young boys and girls to escape their enslavement because they’ve been almost brainwashed into depending on the people that have enslaved them,” Jurgensen says.
Jurgensen calls his project “Walk Forever Free” and he’ll be joined along the way by many of his high school students. Jurgensen is hoping to raise $50 for every mile he walks. He’s raised $7,000 dollars so far. The donations will go to the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives. It’s an international non-profit that fights modern-day slavery and human trafficking.
The “Global Slavery Index” released yesterday by an Australian group called the “Walk Free Foundation” concludes 46 million people around the world are living as slaves today. On Saturday, June 11th, Jurgensen will be about a third of the way through his walk and he’ll speak about his experiences during an event at the State Historical Building in Des Moines.