THROUGH DARKNESS TO LIGHT: Photographs Along the Underground Railroad

A Photo Essay by Jeanine Michna-Bales, 2002 - 2016: Project Research from 2002 - 2016 and Principal Photography from 2012 - 2015

They left during the middle of the night – oftentimes carrying little more than the knowledge that moss grows on the north side of trees. An estimated 100,000 slaves in the decades prior to The Civil War in 1865 chose to embark on this journey of untold hardships in search of freedom. They moved in constant fear of being killed outright or recaptured then returned and beaten as an example of what would happen to others who might choose to run. Under the cover of darkness, ‘fugitives’ traveled roughly 20 miles each night traversing rugged terrain while enduring all the hardships that Mother Nature could bring to bear. Occasionally, they were guided from one secret, safe location to the next by an ever-changing, clandestine group known as the Underground Railroad. Whether they were slaves trying to escape or free blacks and whites trying to help, both sides risked everything for the cause of freedom. From a cotton plantation just South of Natchitoches, Louisiana all the way north into Canada, this series of photographs can help us imagine what the long road to freedom may have looked like as seen through the eyes of one freedom seeker making this epic journey.

For over 14 years, Jeanine Michna-Bales logged countless hours of meticulous research and traveled extensively to create this series of images. Her efforts culminated in the release of this body of work in February 2017, as well as the release of the trade publication from Princeton Architectural Press in Spring 2017, and the launch of a traveling exhibition from Mid-America Arts Alliance that is currently touring the United States until 2024. Last spring, a limited edition portfolio was released at The Photography Show by AIPAD (April 2018).

THERE IS A PROJECT WEBSITE AT which includes educational resources and much of the historical research that went into the making of the series.

NOTE: Hover over the images for image titles, location and year photographed.

No man can tell the intense agony which was felt by the slave, when wavering on the point of making his escape. All that he has is at stake; and even that which he has not, is at stake, also. The life which he has, may be lost, and the liberty which he seeks, may not be granted.
— Frederick Douglass
Artist's Timeline of slavery in the United States.   Click here to download a copy.

Artist's Timeline of slavery in the United States. Click here to download a copy.