Jax library to get interviews with local Underground Railroad experts

By Gary Scott on February 13, 2016 at 8:24am

A former Illinois College student is making it easier for those interested in learning more about Jacksonville’s history with the Underground Railroad.

Ben Belzer, who interned at the Woodlawn Farms site, wrote his senior thesis about it and has published historical work online about Woodlawn, recently interviewed a handful of people about various topics related to the Railroad in the city.

Belzer works as a videographer in Springfield and says he needed practice, and with a big interest in this topic, he decided to chat with folks like Ruth Linear.

“I interviewed her because she knows a lot about a former slave who lived in Jacksonville named Ben Henderson. He was a teamster, he would train mules and things like that, and he would also transport a lot of slaves to different areas,” says Belzer.

“She also knows a lot about Mount Emory Baptist Church and an area of Jacksonville before the Civil War that was known as Africa, or Little Africa.”

Researchers can get their hands on other topics like African American laborers at Woodlawn, Elihu Wolcott, considered the “chief conductor” of the local Underground Railroad, the Congregational Church in Jacksonville, formerly known as the “Abolition Church”, and much more.

Belzer says he felt the need for a permanent collection of Underground Railroad history at the Jacksonville library, which is where the interviews will soon be available.

“The library is in the process of processing them. There’s a few more little details to clean things up, and make things more understandable,” he says.

Belzer says Woodlawn Farm is always looking for volunteers with the site. Belzer adds he’s working with the Jacksonville Convention and Visitors’ Bureau on future Underground Railroad site tours. The most recent bus tour was in October.

You can listen to the full interview by clicking here: