West Philadelphia native Kenneth Johnston always admired Harriet Tubman. He wanted to honor her and started a 400-mile trek, following the same path she walked.
Johnston completed the path, which he named a Walk to Freedom, on Saturday. He started in July, and his first stop was at the Harriet Tubman memorial in Harlem, New York City. He then trekked through the Hudson River Valley, central New York, and ended at the British Methodist Episcopal Church in Ontario, Canada. Tubman attended this church when she was in Ontario.
A Walk To Freedom reflection
“It was an incredible journey walking across New York State, particularly from Albany to Buffalo…visiting many of the known Underground Railroad communities,” said Johnston to NBC News.
Johnston visited the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center on his journey. Here he learned how free Black people were vital in helping those traveling to Canada for freedom.
He stopped by the Cataract House, which was a hotel that employed enslaved people to work as waiters. The hotel staff served as agents for the Underground Railroad.
Johnston felt a spiritual connection in places he stopped, like the African burial ground in Kinderhook, New York. Over 500 Black bodies were buried at this site.
A physical toll
Although the journey was super important to Johnston, he did feel the physical toll. When he would feel tired, he would reflect on the enslaved people who walked the same path. “They didn’t have the special Italian hiking shoes that I have. They didn’t have the backpack and all those things that I have. Their journey was more rugged,” said Johnston.
He did receive a lot of help and support from the Black and Quaker communities while on his journey. He set up a GoFundMe account in July and received over $3,000 in donations.
Johnston had the opportunity to meet Judith Bryant, the great-great grandniece of Harriet Tubman, in Auburn, New York. He visited Tubman’s grave while there.
A Walk to Freedom’s first trek
Johnston first took a Walk to Freedom in December 2019 and replicated Tubman’s path in 1854 to rescue her brothers. He walked 140 miles and completed the trek in six weeks. Johnston walked along the shores of the Choptank River in Maryland to Philadelphia.
The future of A Walk to Freedom
“I would love to see more signage in the promotion of a freedom trail across central and western New York because our story is an American story,” said Johnston.
The journey is complete, but Johnston will venture into new paths after taking a break. He plans on walking a slave trail from Alexandria, Virginia, to New Orleans, spanning over 1,000 miles.