Valley historian finding traces of the Underground Railroad in the Valley

Valley historian finding traces of the Underground Railroad in the Valley
4 months 3 weeks 1 day ago Saturday, February 24 2024 Feb 24, 2024 February 24, 2024 2:00 PM February 24, 2024 in News - Local

EDITOR'S NOTE: A previous version of the article misidentified Juan Carmona as the Hidalgo County historical commissioner. He is a current member of the Hidalgo County Historical Commission Precinct 1.  

The Underground Railroad can be traced back to the land many in the Rio Grande Valley continue to walk on today.

The Underground Railroad was a trail of safe houses that enslaved people who searched for freedom would follow in order to reach areas where slavery was abolished.

According to Juan Carmona, a history teacher at Donna High School — and a member of the Hidalgo County Historical Commission — the Rio Grande Valley was part of the Underground Railroad.

Those on the Underground Railroad would run from Pharr, San Juan and Donna to escape to Mexico, where slavery was abolished.

Carmona said the Underground Railroad-like activity going through the Valley had many conductors with the help of mixed-race families in the community.

One of those mix-raced families along the Rio Grande in Hidalgo County was the Webber family.

"[They] were known to harbor formerly enslaved peoples and use their ferries to cross them into Mexico,” Carmona said. “It was not unknown for them to be crossing back and forth with their ferries.”

Another family that participated in the Underground Railroad was the Jackson family, whose ranch became a refuge for runaway slaves from Texas and the Deep South.

As a history teacher, Carmona tells his students how we are able to still see history in present-day.

Hundreds of years later, the same routes enslaved peoples once used to leave the country are the same ones many migrants pass as they try to make it into the United States, Carmona said.

“It’s very dangerous brush country, so you see the desperation on both sides — the desperation of formerly enslaved people, and migrants trying to flee,” Carmona said.

Both John and Silvia Webber are buried in the Webber Cemetery in Donna.

The Jackson Ranch Church Cemetery can still be seen today in Pharr.

Watch the video above for the full story. 

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