Through Darkness to Light: Photographs Along the Underground Railroad

They left during the middle of the night—often carrying little more than the knowledge that moss grows on the north side of trees. An estimated 100,000 slaves between 1830 and the end of the Civil War in 1865 chose to embark on this journey in search of freedom. They moved in constant fear of being killed or recaptured, 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 twenty 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. Many consider the Underground Railroad to be the first great freedom movement in the Americas and the first time when people of different races and faiths worked together in harmony for freedom and justice.

Photographer Jeanine Michna-Bales has spent more than a decade meticulously researching “fugitive” slaves and the ways they escaped to freedom. While the unnumbered routes of the Underground Railroad encompassed countless square miles, the path Michna-Bales documented encompasses roughly 2,000 miles and is based off of actual sites, cities, and places that freedom-seekers passed through during their journey.

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 the cotton plantations south of Natchitoches, Louisiana, all the way north to the Canadian border, this series of photographs by Michna-Bales helps us imagine what the long road to freedom may have looked like as seen through the eyes of one of those who made this epic journey.

While many books have been written on the subject, there is very little visual documentation of the Underground Railroad because of its secretive nature. Today, as America becomes more and more diverse, Michna-Bales believes that an understanding of the experience—and those who lived through it—is more relevant than ever. The Underground Railroad united people from different races, genders, social levels, religions, and regions in a common and worthwhile cause. It was the first civil rights movement within America. Through Darkness to Light: Photographs Along the Underground Railroad encourages visitors to learn more, ask questions, and open a dialogue on the subject, and in the end, provide a better understanding of our origins.

This exhibition features beautifully dramatic color photographs, ephemera, and narratives that together tell the story of the Underground Railroad. The author is working with Princeton Architectural Press to prepare a publication that will combine eighty-two original photographs and text with a diverse sampling of related ephemera.

Please note: The title of this exhibition changed from The Underground Railroad: Photographs of a Path to Freedom in 2016 to match the title of the artist’s upcoming publication.

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Through Darkness to Light: Photographs Along the Underground Railroad is touring January 2017 through January 2022. The dates below reflect seven-week exhibition periods. Dates are subject to change; please contact or (800) 473-3872 x208/209 for current availability.

  • January 28–March 16, 2017 Evanston History Center
    Evanston, IL
  • April 6–May 25, 2017 Fort Smith Regional Art Museum
    Fort Smith, AR
  • June 16–August 11, 2017 Griot Museum of Black History
    St. Louis, MO
  • September 1–October 20, 2017 St. Lawrence University, Richard F. Brush Art Gallery
    Canton, NY
  • November 10, 2017–January 7, 2018 Museum of History & Art Ontario
    Ontario, CA
  • January 28–March 16, 2018 Texarkana Regional Arts & Humanities Council
    Texarkana, TX
  • April 6–May 25, 2018 Panola College
    Carthage, TX
  • June 16–October 20, 2018 Portsmouth Art and Cultural Center
    Portsmouth, VA
  • November 10, 2018–January 7, 2019 Refurbishment
    Kansas City, MO
  • January 28–March 16, 2019 Alexandria Black History Museum
    Alexandria, VA
  • April 6–May 25, 2019 West Baton Rouge Museum
    Port Allen, LA
  • June 16–August 11, 2019 Delta Cultural Center
    Helena, AR
  • September 1–October 20, 2019 Canton Museum of Art
    Canton, OH
  • November 10, 2019–January 7, 2020 Gorman Discovery Center
    Kansas City, MO
  • January 28–May 25, 2020 Upcountry History Museum
    Greenville, SC
  • June 16–August 11, 2020
  • September 1–October 20, 2020 Bell County Museum
    Belton, TX
  • November 10, 2020–January 7, 2021
  • January 28–March 16, 2021 Temecula Valley Museum
    Temecula, CA
  • April 6–August 11, 2021 Pink Palace Museum
    Memphis, TN
  • September 1–October 20, 2021 Ypsilanti District Library
    Ypsilanti, MI
  • November 10, 2021–January 7, 2022

Exhibition Details

Approximately fifty framed color photographs

  • Content

    Fee Includes:
    Press Kit
    Registrar’s Packet
    Programming Guide
    Gallery Guide
    Text Panels
    Narrative Labels
    Full Insurance
    Installation Instructions
    Custom-Designed and Built Crates

  • Curated By

    ExhibitsUSA, Mid-America Arts Alliance

  • Organized By

    ExhibitsUSA, Mid-America Arts Alliance, Kansas City, MO

  • Out-of-Region Rental Fee


  • In-Region Rental Fee

    $2,550 before July 1, 2017; $3,060 after July 1, 2017

  • Duration

    7-week display

  • Shipping

    Van line

  • Running Feet


  • Square Feet


  • Security

    Moderate B

  • Number of Crates/Total Weight


  • Insurance

    The exhibition is fully insured by ExhibitsUSA at no additional expense to you, both while installed and during transit.