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Colorful mural highlights Ohio's link to the Underground Railroad

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Posted at 12:16 PM, Feb 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-04 12:16:54-05

BEDFORD, Ohio — A colorful mural in the center of one Northeast Ohio city tells the story of its connection to the Underground Railroad.

There are many stories about the struggles runaway slaves endured for a shot at freedom, but for Cleveland artist Stina Aleah, there's something special about Sara Lucy Bagby's journey.

“There was almost a stand-off so that they could free her,” said Aleah.

Bagby reached Northeast Ohio on the Underground Railroad but didn’t stay long because of the Fugitive Slave Act.

"She had to go back to her owners,” said Aleah.

Bagby was the last person in the U.S. forced to return to slavery.

She is featured on the mural in the heart of Bedford.

“There’s a lot of symbolism that we pulled together, not only just of Bedford‘s history with the Underground Railroad but the Underground Railroad in general,” said Aleah.

Aleah was among a handful of artists from Graffiti HeArt who helped design and paint the side of the building.

“There’s a lot of symbolic meaning to this location,” said Stamy Paul, Graffiti HeArt Cleveland.

The building sits along railroad tracks that transported Abraham Lincoln twice - once for his inauguration and the other for his funeral.

“We hope to be able to do more of these projects where we can bring diverse artists, stories, and illustrations together to help beautify communities,” said Paul.

While the events depicted here happened more than 150-years ago, Aleah said the fight for freedom continues in 2021 and the mural can help.

“I think art can create an avenue to create conversations that they may not necessarily feel comfortable within any other form,” said Aleah.

The conversation leads to change, empathy and understanding.

“This is part of our history, this did happen, and we still have to fight day-in-and-day-out to be advocates,” said Paul.

In case you're wondering about what happened to Sara Lucy Bagby, after her brief taste of freedom in Bedford, Bagby was released under the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Lincoln.

“She tried to run away all the time. She was almost there, she was here. And still had to go back,” said Aleah.

Bagby returned to Cleveland, where she died and is buried.

Her bravery and determination that captivated Aleah are now in the spotlight to inspire others.

“It just gave me a sense of pride and I’m not even from Bedford,” said Aleah.

This story originally reported by Mike Brookbank on News5Cleveland.com.