By Carol McCracken
A Freedom Trail granite marker was dedicated on Saturday, July 12, 2008 on the Hill. About 40 people watched as Rachel Talbot Ross, Director of the Equal Opportunity & Multicultural Affairs office introduced several dignitaries present, city councilor Jill Duson and thanked the city of Portland for their cooperation in this endeavor. Historian Wells Staley-Mays introduced the honoree Charles F. Eastman as an entrepreneur who was also a conductor on the underground railroad.
Eastman owned four barber shops in Portland, but the one at the corner of North and Congress Streets was the only one Staley-Mays was able to document through city documents. ( It’s directly across from Colucci’s Market.) Eastman was also a second hand clothes dealer as well as a taxidermist who opened his home so that others could see his stuffed animals. “In other words,” said Staley-Mays, “he was a hustler!”
Descendents of Eastman were present for the dedication and participated in the unveiling of the marker just after noon. City councilor Jill Duson led the assembled in the singing of several gospel songs. “This is one more celebration in the midst of many,” said Ross. “This history belongs to all of us,” said Ross to the racially mixed audience. Also in attendance were city councilor Kevin J. Donoghue and Justin Alfond who is a Democratic candidate for the State Senate.
Last November the first of the planned sixteen monuments was dedicated in front of the Eastern Cemetery on Congress Street. That location was chosen because some of the key players in the abolitionsts movement are buried at the site. At the time, Ross, said in part: “The Underground Railroad was neither underground nor a railroad but a loose network of aid and assistance – of individual sacrifice and heroism – in the efforts of enslaved people to reach freedeom from bondage. As the Underground Railroad, developed, a metaphor unfolded that grew into a culture and myth of its own. People were passengers, although they never set foot on a train car;…”
Life-long Hill resident, Maria DePietrantonia, attended the unveiling of the marker because she was “curious. I didn’t know what it was about, but I knew it was important.” Following the inveiling, Maria said she was glad she attended because “I learned more about the community. I’ve known the McKenzie family all my life.” she said smiling.
“This is not the original building because that burned in the famous fire of 1866,“ explained Staley-Mays. Currently, Fuller Glass Studios rents the storefront overlooking the marker. It has not been determined when the current building was rebuilt.