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Fronteras: 'Mexico was a safe haven’ — The hidden history of enslaved people who found freedom across the border

The journey north of enslaved people in their search for freedom is well-documented in history.

But freedom was not exclusive to the North or in Canada; it was also found further south in Mexico.

Mexico outlawed slavery decades ahead of the U.S. Civil War, and many enslaved people headed south in search of freedom.

Mekala Audain is an associate professor of African American history at the College of New Jersey. She said the history of flight across the border to freedom is largely left out of history books — both in the U.S. and Mexico.

“Mexico had their abolitionist movement; it was successful,” she said. “Slavery ended for them decades earlier, so there was no one writing about assisting freedom seekers in the same way that people in the North wrote about it.”

The San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum (SAAACAM) explored the role the city played in the assistance, or resistance, of self-emancipated freedom fighters at the San Antonio in the Fight & Flight for Freedom symposium

María Esther Hammack, assistant professor of African American History at the Ohio State University, said San Antonio served as an important marker for freedom seekers.

She said thousands traveled a southbound underground railroad of sorts to freedom, and that path often crossed through San Antonio where many were arrested and jailed.

“If you walk around downtown San Antonio, you don’t see any markers that tell you this history,” she said. “There are no markers for the people who were bought and sold, for the people who were launched into jail as they were trying to reach the Mexican border.”

Hammack and Audain participated in the SAAACAM symposium.

See video below:

Click here to read an account of Felix Haywood, a former enslaved man from San Antonio.

Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1