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Birmingham and the Underground Railroad

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The Underground Railroad Connections to Birmingham--Verified 
Abolitionist Elijah S. Fish and freedom seeker George B. Taylor's burial sites now included in the national Network to Freedom listing

National Network to Freedom logoWhile researching Birmingham's Black heritage, museum staff and volunteers discovered documents that firmly established that both Elijah Staunton Fish and George Basil Taylor were associated with Michigan's Underground Railroad in the years before the American Civil War.  Each man's story tells a different perspective of the struggle for freedom from enslavement; Fish as an abolitionist and anti-slavery activist in early Birmingham, and Taylor as a freedom seeker who fled enslavement and ultimately settled in Birmingham after being aided by the Underground Railroad network. With the support of the Friends of the Birmingham Museum, the Museum Board, and the Birmingham City Commission, application was made to the National Park Service's Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program to designate their final resting places at Greenwood Cemetery in the official listing of national sites. On March 29, 2022, the listing was made official, and Greenwood joined over 700 other sites all over the U.S. that have verified connections to the Underground Railroad, either as those seeking freedom or those helping others achieve it.

Summary Statement 
Excerpt, Underground Railroad Network to Freedom application (January, 2022)
by Leslie Pielack

Greenwood Cemetery Greenwood Cemetery is an important historic site in the city of Birmingham, and is well maintained and accessible to the public. It is the final resting place of two men with direct historical connections to Michigan’s Underground Railroad: George Basil Taylor (c1823-1901) and Deacon Elijah Staunton Fish (1791-1861). Their lives and stories have made a lasting impact on our community.

The cemetery contains an estimated 3740 burials of individuals who have been part of our community since 1825. It is open to the public dawn to dusk. The museum is in the process of creating a mobile app tour to help visitors locate and learn more about Taylor and Fish and their burial sites.  In the meantime, contact the museum at 248-530-1928. 

Underground Railroad Routes through Southern Michigan, Ohio and IndianaGeorge Taylor fled enslavement in Kentucky in 1855, traveling on foot over 300 miles until reaching Niles, Michigan, where he connected with the Underground Railroad and passage to Canada. He returned and settled in the Birmingham area in 1856. He also was associated with Reverend J.S.T. Milligan, a stationmaster in Southfield, Michigan. George and his wife Eliza (also formerly enslaved) were well known and active in Birmingham, and were the first African Americans to own property in town. 

Elijah Fish was a pioneer settler who held strong abolitionist views and actively supported freedom seekers politically and financially from the 1830s until his death, co-founding the Oakland County Anti-Slavery Society, bringing anti-slavery lecturers to Birmingham, raising funds and supplies for escapees, and working with abolitionist Henry Bibb to purchase property in Ontario for resettlement of freedom seekers.

The homes of both Elijah Fish and George Taylor no longer exist, and the sites would be difficult to distinguish in their historic context in the present day. However, the Greenwood Cemetery site as a whole conveys the depth of history and the setting of the evolution of Birmingham as a community very effectively. This nomination proposes that the cemetery itself be considered for designation for George Taylor and Elijah Fish on behalf of their connection to the Underground Railroad in Michigan. In no other location in Birmingham can Fish and Taylor be understood in the context of their community; and as each man stands for the values of participation and community, it is fitting as the site to commemorate their stories.  

Learn more about Deacon Elijah S. Fish's life and involvement with early abolitionist and anti-slavery efforts in Birmingham in this excerpt from our application.
Learn more about George B. Taylor's desperate escape from enslavement in Kentucky and later life in Birmingham in this excerpt from our application.

Read more about George and Eliza Taylors' lives after emancipation: George Taylor, Freedom Seekerby Donna Casaceli
Read the obituary of George B. Taylor, (Transcribed), Birmingham Eccentric,  Nov. 8, 1901

Michigan Freedom Trail Congratulatory Letter on UGRR Designation
MFT letter
Highlights--Underground Railroad Commemoration Ceremony
Saturday, Sept. 17 at 11 a.m.
Did you know the Greenwood Cemetery gravesites of Elijah Fish and George Taylor are now recognized on the National Park Service’s Underground Railroad Network to Freedom? We formally acknowledged the National Park Service’s listing with a commemorative event on Saturday, September 17, 2022. A brief program took place at 11 a.m. at the north end of Baldwin Park at Quarton Lake (the corner of Oak and Lakeside), just one block from Greenwood Cemetery. A tour of the gravesites took place immediately following the program. View the event program
at www.bhamgov.org/commemorationprogram.
This important designation was approved following hard work and research by Birmingham Museum staff and volunteers, who were able to show the two men had direct connections to local anti-slavery efforts leading up the Civil War. Pioneer settler Fish was an active abolitionist, and Taylor himself escaped enslavement and followed the Underground Railroad through Michigan to freedom, becoming the first African American to own property in Birmingham. 

UGRR Event Program_Page_2
Snapshot-Crowd1JPGKaren Jackson Sims
Fish gravesite - CopyTaylor gravesite - Copy