Founder Joan Southgate

About Joan Southgate

In April 2002, Joan Southgate, a retired Social Worker and Cleveland-area activist, stepped off from the small town of Ripley, Ohio, with a simple goal: She wanted to highlight the courage and resourcefulness of the American slave and conductor families who risked so much for freedom on the Underground Railroad. She called her journey IN THEIR PATH! and set out to increase awareness of a moment in history when people came together across color, creed, and class to do freedom’s work. Her journey has taken her on a 519-mile walk across Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Canada. From schoolchildren to community groups, bank presidents to truck drivers, her inspiring story, and message of unity has resonated over the miles. Her walk has ended, but her mission-continues.

In Their Path bookIN THEIR PATH: A Grandmother’s 519-Mile Underground Railroad Walk is now available, celebrating Joan’s great journey and highlighting the anti-slavery history of Ohio communities she traveled through. Joan and Cleveland-area writer Fran Stewart have collaborated on this unique book that honors the brave acts of individuals and families who participated in what has been described as the nation’s earliest integrated civil rights movement. IN THEIR PATH also praises the work of modern-day conductors intent on keeping alive the spirit of the Underground Railroad in their communities and provides travel information for people interested in exploring this incredible legacy for themselves.

Restore Cleveland Hope is Born

On July 9, 2003, Joan Southgate invited six women to her home (Ginger Mook, Nishani Frazier, Binnie Eiger, Binne’ Douglas, Nicki Gudbranson and Fran Stewart) to talk about saving the historic Cozad-Bates House. Five weeks later, twenty-three people attended our first community meeting at Western Reserve Historical Society and in tribute to Cleveland’s Underground Railroad code name "Hope" our newly formed grassroots organization took the name Restore Cleveland Hope.

Speaking in churches, synagogues, schools, universities, ward meetings, neighborhood clubs, service organizations and city councils, Ms. Southgate brought attention to Cleveland and Ohio’s antislavery history and championed the mission of Restore Cleveland Hope. Our organization, now a 501c3 non-profit, has successfully campaigned to save the only pre-civil war home still standing in University Circle and will establish an Underground Railroad Education and Resource Center in the Cozad-Bates House 11508 Mayfield Road in Cleveland.

Many community groups had been concerned with saving this beautiful Cleveland home for over thirty years. For three years our large multiracial, multicultural group of activists organized candlelight vigils, sidewalk informational sessions (dressed in period costume), engaged various service, arts and church groups and held large public community meetings. On April 7, 2006, University Hospital Inc. graciously donated the Cozad-Bates Home to University Circle Inc. Now, University Circle Inc., Restore Cleveland Hope, and the Cleveland Restoration Society are collaborating to bring this exquisite, historic building into use as a dynamic Underground Railroad Education and Resource Center.

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