Dr. Randolph Rowel and professor Dale Green worked together at Morgan State University for a decade. They were distant cousins and had no clue.
They also didn’t know their shared ancestor was a key figure in Underground Railroad history, and that very same ancestor was also a nearly forgotten founder of the university where the men teach today.
“It is divine providence, I think,” marveled Glenwood as he considered how his life has crossed with Rowel’s.
The discovery about their past was made when one of Rowel’s relatives began asking questions about Green’s Eastern Shore family and discovered a connection.
Rowel became so emotional he could hardly speak for a moment as the men reviewed a table covered with artifacts from the Underground Railroad era, while standing in an historic Baltimore church where their shared ancestor once preached.
That ancestor was the Rev. Samuel Green, who was a freed slave, pastor, and collaborator with Harriet Tubman. Green was eventually caught and imprisoned for possessing a copy of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s abolitionist novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The sentence was 10 years.
“He was the Mandela of that time,” Rowel said. “This man could read. It was against the law to read.”
Green was a fascinating and heroic character. He gained his freedom from slavery in the 1840s after his owner died and his will emancipated Green.
But Green was married to a woman who was still enslaved. Rather than moving north, he stayed in the small down of East New Market, Md., near the Dorchester County home of Harriet Tubman.
Green was pastor of a church by day, but by night he was among the leaders of a secret resistance network that included Tubman and others to plan for and assist slaves who could make a break for freedom.
Green was able to buy his wife out of slavery. His son, Samuel Green Jr. remained in bondage, but soon escaped. After he became a fugitive, Rev. Green’s daughter Sara was sold off by her enraged owner. Sara was sent to Missouri, where she was never heard from again.
Green was finally caught as authorities swept through the county after the daring escape of eight fugitive slaves. They found a letter from his son, who was in Canada, and the copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
“He risked everything,” said Dale Green.
After serving prison time in Baltimore, Green moved to Canada with his wife. The couple and their son returned to Maryland after the Civil War and emancipation.
It was then that Green was among a group of pastors who founded the Centenary Biblical Institute in Baltimore to train new pastors. By 1890, the school evolved into a teacher’s college.
Eventually the institution grew to become Morgan State University, where the descendant cousins’ lives intersected six generations later.
“He was in prison and did not come out bent over,” said Rowel. Instead Green “came out and had the audacity to lay the foundation for a university to begin.”
“We often talk about it, Dale and I, that education is the 21st century Underground Railroad,” Rowel said.