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Caretaker of ‘Underground Railroad’ Shares Story With Xavier Audience

Caretaker of ‘Underground Railroad’ Shares Story With Xavier Audience


Xavier students, faculty and staff were treated last month to one alumni’s account of how a part-time job in 1996 evolved into a full-time passion.

Ed Rigaud, who graduated from the historically Black school in New Orleans in 1965, came back to the campus last month to deliver the Distinguished Alumni Lecture.

In 1996, Rigaud, who at the time was vice president for government relations at Procter & Gamble, took what was to be a one-year leave of absence to get Cincinnati’s fledging National Underground Railroad Freedom Center off the ground.

Some six years later he is serving as full-time president of the Freedom Center. Only now he is on the verge of seeing his long-standing dream come true.

Historians say that Cincinnati, a major urban center separated from the slave-owning South by only a river, loomed large as an important gateway on the road to freedom in the years prior to and during the American Civil War.

Several thousand African Americans lived in a highly organized community along the eastern and western edges of the city’s waterfront, which offered escaping slaves a good chance of slipping into the city — and hence into the North — unnoticed.

Out of four million slaves in the South, it is estimated that more than 100,000 found freedom through the Underground Railroad.

According to Rigaud, the new museum and educational center will commemorate the struggle of those valiant individuals who risked the perils of the journey to freedom. It will also preserve the names and contributions of generous men and women who made the journey possible.

“The Freedom Center will be a museum of reflection,” Rigaud says. “It won’t be simply a collection of static displays to impart information that fills the mind, but rather a museum designed to provide experiences that touch and transform your heart.

“It is my hope that its existence will instill in contemporary society an understanding and respect for the struggles and perseverance of the Negro slave,” he says.

Rigaud, who prior to his leave of absence had worked for 31 years with Procter & Gamble, has taken the Freedom Center from the concept stage to the construction phase. He has also orchestrated a major capital campaign which to date has raised $77 million to fund the project.

Construction of the four-acre, three-pavilion Freedom Center complex — which is part of a $2 billion riverfront development initiative that includes Cincinnati’s new football and baseball stadiums — began this past June. It is scheduled for completion in 2004.

Rigaud’s tireless efforts on behalf of the project have not gone unnoticed. He was recently appointed to Ohio State Board of Regents by Gov. Bob Taft, and has been appointed to the National Museum Board by President George W. Bush.

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