One Fight on Both Sides of the Border
The Tower of Freedom monument located in Windsor, Ontario, along with the Gateway to Freedom monument, which is located at Hart Plaza in Detroit, Michigan are two halves of the International Underground Railroad Memorial created by sculptor Ed Dwight. These monuments remind us that it is the fight of the peoples in Canada and the United States which uphold rights and freedom, while the governments of both countries have historically colluded to control the movement of people across the border on the basis of racist and colonial practices and policies which treat people as things and today as “legal” or “illegal.”
Today, while the United States separates families for deportations and images show its border agents using whips to corral those trying to enter the country, and while its prisons are filled with black, brown, and indigenous peoples, the Canadian government through agreements like the Safe Third Country Agreement claims the US is a safe third country for refugees, when experience and reailty shows otherwise.
The monuments show that today, as in the past, it is the peoples stands for their rights and their independent organizing to affirm them which upholds the rights and dignity of all. “No one is illegal!” “End the deportations!” and other stands of the movement today uphold the legacy of the underground railroad and those who built it.
The plaque for the Tower of Freedom monument reads:
“The Underground Railroad in Canada
From the early 19th century until the American Civil War, settlements along the Detroit and Niagara rivers were important terminals of the Underground Railroad. White and black abolitionists formed a heroic network dedicated to supporting free and enslaved African Americans as they liberated themselves. By 1861, some 30,000 freedom-seekers resided in what is now Ontario, after secretly travelling north from slave states like Kentucky and Virginia. Some returned south after the outbreak of the Civil War, but many remained, helping to forge the modern Canadian identity.”
The plaque for the Gateway to Freedom monument reads:
“Until Emancipation, Detroit and the Detroit River community served as the gateway to freedom for thousands of African American people escaping enslavement. Detroit was one of the largest terminals of the Underground Railroad, a network of abolitionists aiding enslaved people seeking freedom. Detroit’s Underground Railroad code name was Midnight. At first, Michigan was a destination for freedom seekers, but Canada became a safer sanctuary after slavery was abolished there in 1834. With passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, many runaways left their homes in Detroit and crossed the river to Canada to remain free. Some returned after Emancipation in 1863.
“The successful operation of Detroit’s Underground Railroad was due to the efforts of diverse groups of people, including people of African descent, Whites and North American Indians. This legacy of freedom is a vital part of Detroit and its history.”