Philadelphia man walks 400 miles to cover length of Underground Railroad to honor Black abolitionist Harriet Tubman

Philadelphia man walks 400 miles to cover length of Underground Railroad to honor Black abolitionist Harriet Tubman
Kenneth Johnston (R) with Judith Bryant, a descendant of Herriet Tubman (L) during his 400 mile walk (Photo by Ken Johnston & Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA: A devoted admirer of the Black messiah Harriet Tubman and her incredible achievements, Kenneth Johnston walked over 400 miles to honor her. He chose the same path she once walked, which he calls the ‘Walk to Freedom’.

The man from West Philadelphia in his journey criss-crossing New York state has followed the Underground Railroad routes. Johnston chose to spend time at historic Black sites and communities while on his incredible 400-mile trek. Sharing the experience, he said, “I was amazed. It was an incredible journey walking across New York state, particularly from Albany to Buffalo … visiting many of the known Underground Railroad communities.”


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Johnston began his journey in July and took his first stop at Harriet Tubman Memorial in Harlem, New York. He then trekked through the Hudson River Valley, across central New York, and finished his arduous trek at the British Methodist Episcopal Church. It was a significant spot for him to end his journey since this is the same church that Tubman attended in Ontario, Canada.

Interestingly, this was not his first long walk to pay respect to Harriet Tubman. Johnston had taken the exact path Tubman took to rescue her brothers in 1854 by walking 140 miles. This journey's route stretched along the shores of the Choptank River in Maryland to Philadelphia. The 61-year-old man completed it in 2019, over six weeks. However, this one he wrapped up in just 4 days, and said, it "still blows my mind." Johnston didn’t miss out on visiting historic sites on his voyage to Canada and visited Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center too. There he educated himself on "how the free Black community played a crucial by sheltering travelers to Canada seeking freedom."

The Philadelphia man talked about the spiritual connection he felt at certain sites, especially, the African burial ground in Kinderhook, New York, where over 500 Black bodies were laid. “In that place, that’s where you could feel that they were at peace.” But in other places, like a Dutch farm in Rotterdam Junction, New York, maintained by the Schenectady County Historical Society, Johnston said he could feel the unsettled spirits of those who died while still enslaved, who still had “a lot of angst in them.

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