Underground Railroad Bus Tour Leads the LC Community on a Journey Through the Black History of Alton

By Kal Weiss 


On Thursday, Feb. 15, the Underground Railroad bus tour visited Alton with a group who learned the rich and deep history of Alton’s involvement in the Underground Railroad. The group visited Enos Apartments on East Third Street, the Lovejoy State Monument and Elijah P. Lovejoy’s grave in the Alton City Cemetery on Fifth and Vine Streets.  

The tour was led by Eric Robinson, a prolific Underground Railroad historian who has been leading tours for 29 years. He was originally the host of a half-hour talk show between 1993 and 2004 on WBGZ-AM called “Eavesdropping,” where he wanted to include Alton’s history as an ongoing topic. That drive to educate people segued into leading annual tours through Alton directly.  

His goal is to explore the many dimensions of Black history and how it plays into Alton’s abolitionist history. Robinson fights the oversimplification and stereotyping of Black people, describing the sites and people involved with them in staunch detail to give them life after they have been written into history. 

History is complicated, not simple – because human beings are complicated, not simple. We are dynamic, as are all living things; life cannot be reduced to hashtags,” Robinson explained. “Often, people seeking the ‘simple’ from my tour discourages me. Instead, I give them, ‘these were human beings, not cartoon characters.’”  

In the basement of Enos Apartments, there is a coal shed where escaped slaves would take refuge. In the shed, it is extremely dark, which gave the people an opportunity to lower the risk of being found and sold back into slavery.  

The Lovejoy State Monument, at the steps of Alton City Cemetery, is a 93-foot-tall pillar with a 17-foot-tall statue of victory erected in 1897. There are spires mounted by an eagle on each side with bronze lions by them. A whispering wall surrounds the rear of the monument in a semi-circle. It honors Elijah P. Lovejoy, a well-known abolitionist and free speech advocate, who was killed by a pro-slavery mob in 1837.  

When asked how his identity as a Black man plays into the heart he puts into his tours, Robinson said, “As an American of West African descent, I feel it incumbent upon me to move the discussion beyond the trite and beyond the comic book presentations of Black history popular in everyday culture. We are much, much more than ‘Rosa sat down, Martin had a dream, then we elected Obama’ hashtags. For over four centuries, we created, we survived, and we thrived.”  

Jared Hennings, the Student Activities coordinator, praised how the tour brings Alton’s curious citizens together in stride. He said, “Every year without fail, it has a well-received response from the community. These tours let it come together in big numbers.” 

If you’d like more information on an Underground Railroad tour or to register for one, contact the Great Rivers and Routes Tourism Bureau at (800) 258-6645. If you would like to contact Eric Robinson directly, you can call at (618) 462-5590 or email at jerobinson1008@gmail.com. 

About Kal Weiss

Kal is pursuing a degree in Graphic Design and plans to graduate in Winter 2024. After graduation, they plan to begin their graphic design career.
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