Slavery in America began as a part of a long history of international trade in goods and people. In one of the largest forced migrations in history, millions of Africans crossed the Atlantic from the 16th to the 19th centuries through the horrific "Middle Passage."

After reaching America, Africans were auctioned off to the highest bidder and doomed to a life of slavery, stripping them of their dignity, their pride and most of all, their freedom. Whenever possible, individuals attempted to liberate themselves by running away. Many runaways were aided by abolitionists who gave them safe passage on the Underground Railroad.

Cotton was King in Memphis, and in the mid-1800s, the need for free labor was in high demand. That need was met with the establishment of more than a dozen lucrative slave-trading businesses. Memphis quickly became Tennessee's largest slave-trading city.

Jacob Burkle, a German immigrant, was among those in the anti-slavery movement who risked their lives to help escaping Africans by harboring them in their homes and aiding them on their journey to freedom. Cloaked away in secrecy, Burkle, a stockyard owner, operated an underground Railroad way station on the outskirts of Memphis from around 1855 until the abolition of slavery. Burkle's unsuspecting, modest home, located near the banks of the Mississippi River, provided refuge for runaway slaves during their flight to freedom in the North.

A walk through this antebellum home is a journey through history, revealing secrets of its past that had been kept secret for more than 100 years. As you descend the stairs into the dark, damp, cellar and peer through the trap doors and hidden passages where the fugitives were harbored, you get a glimpse of those turbulent times.

Imagine for a moment what daring escapes these must have been for those who were determined to break the chains of slavery.


826 North Second Street P.O. Box 3142 Memphis, TN 38173 901.527.3427 /901.527.7711