300-Year-Old Underground Railroad Tree Stands Tall As Monuments Fall

Underground Railroad Tour At Guilford College

GREENSBORO, N.C.-- On Guilford College’s grounds stands a different kind of monument: a 300-year-old poplar tree that stands as a tall reminder to students, faculty and the community of the Underground Railroad that once passed through the campus’ woods.

The tree is the oldest in the Guilford Woods, filled with old growth forest, dating back to before the 1800s.

“A silent witness,” the College calls it, to Underground Railroad activities.

According to the College’s website, even though the Railroad network was secretive and its blueprints are no longer around, Greensboro’s New Garden community was known to be a meeting point in the South.

To honor the history of the Underground Railroad, the College opened a trail in the form of a tour that simulates how runway slaves navigated the woods and sought freedom with the help from free African-American slaves and European-American allies.

James Shields, Director of Community Learning at Guilford College, serves as the Underground Railroad Tour guide. 

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“We don’t need a statue of Levi Coffin to understand the work that he and his family did in these woods,” Shields says to a group of faculty and students during a Unity March that passed the Tree.

The Unity March was held in response to the violence in Charlottesville and to address the national conversation about removing Confederate monuments and statues.

According to Shields, the racial divide during the Underground Railroad days resonates with today’s racial tension and political climate.

The guided Underground Railroad tours are open to school groups and other groups in the community interested in learning about the history experienced in the Guilford Woods. 

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