The historical exhibit “Journey to Freedom: The Odyssey of Abolitionist Moses Roper” won a Secretary of State award through the Florida Main Street Awards Program last month.
The exhibit was developed by Apalachicola Main Street and several collaborators last year. Apalachicola Main Street’s Executive Director Augusta West attended and accepted the award from Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd at the Preservation on Main Conference in Deland.
The conference was hosted by the Florida Main Street Program, Florida Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Mainstreet DeLand Association.
The exhibition was created to educate the public about abolitionist Moses Roper (1815- 1891), who was enslaved on an Apalachicola steamboat in the early 1830s. His remarkable escape from slavery in 1834 led him to New England and then Britain, where he obtained an education and became a prominent feature of the transatlantic abolitionist movement.
After publishing his “Narrative of the Adventures and Escape of Moses Roper from American Slavery,” Roper lectured almost 2,000 times across England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. Roper’s narrative is the only known account of slavery in Florida written from the perspective of an enslaved person that was published in the antebellum period.
Scholars recognize Roper as a significant early author of the fugitive slave narrative genre. His book was published in 10 editions and was widely read by abolitionists on both sides of the Atlantic.
The project team was headed up by West, the project’s director, in collaboration with Hannah-Rose Murray, Ph.D., research fellow at the University of Edinburgh whose research focuses on amplifying formerly enslaved African American testimony, focusing on their journeys to Britain between the 1830s-1890s.
Elinor Mount-Simmons, educator and president of H’COLA (Hillside Coalition of Laborers for Apalachicola) served as project advisor and editor. Lady Dr. Dhyana Ziegler, DCJ, of Tallahassee, as journalist, multimedia writer and digital content producer served as the educational content consultant. Meredith Devereaux of Victoria, Australia – Roper’s great-great-great granddaughter – served as an expert advisor, providing research and historical perspective.
The exhibit is the first to be solely dedicated to an in-depth look at Roper’s life and legacy. Interpretive panels, a touch screen digital kiosk with interactive maps, an 1838 edition of Roper’s narrative, and reproduced historical documents tell his story.
“One of the early decisions the team made was to use Roper’s own words from his writings and speeches to tell his story as much as possible,” said West.
The graphic design for the interpretive panels was created by Cindy Clark of Bay Media. The panels were printed and fabricated by Sign DeSign of Eastpoint.
After opening last fall at the Apalachicola Center for History, Culture, and Art, the exhibit was placed on loan to the Apalachicola Arsenal Museum in Chattahoochee. It will return to the Apalachicola Center for History, Culture, and Art in early September for a temporary installation before traveling to the Gallery for Innovation and the Arts at the R.A. Gray Building in Tallahassee for a six-month exhibition.
Before the exhibit, most area residents had never heard of Roper, but the project has brought his story to light. “I’m thrilled that the exhibit received this state-wide recognition,” said West. “We’ve had so much positive feedback from the community, from scholars, and from Roper’s ancestors. He was a remarkable historical figure who is worthy of recognition.”
The exhibit was featured in the spring issue of Florida Humanities’ Forum Magazine. West has also given lectures about Roper at the Apalachicola Arsenal Museum and the Corinne Costin Gibson Memorial Public Library in Port St. Joe.
Funding for the exhibit was provided by Florida Humanities, National Endowment for the Humanities, Duke Energy Foundation, Apalachicola Main Street, Weems Memorial Hospital, and several individual donors.
The Secretary of State’s Florida Main Street Awards Program was developed by the Division of Historical Resources of the Florida Department of State to recognize activities which advance the mission of the Florida Main Street program for revitalization and preservation in Florida communities.