Presenter Neil Frankel will speak at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Ionia United Methodist Church.

WEST BLOOMFIELD — She was a nurse, a spy, and a scout during the American Civil War.

Today, she may be best remembered as the most famous conductor on the Underground Railroad. Harriet Tubman, who escaped from slavery in 1849, later rescued family and friends from bondage.

A program offered by the West Bloomfield Historical Society at the Ionia United Methodist Church at 7 p.m. Tuesday will focus on this courageous African-American abolitionist and the network of safe houses and antislavery activists known as the Underground Railroad.

Presenter Neil Frankel is a member of the Speakers’ Bureau of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Rochester Institute of Technology.

“I admire the way she risked her life many times, going back to the South to bring additional groups of slaves to freedom in the North,” said Frankel, who has studied other heroic figures of the slave years like Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth.

His broad interest and knowledge of slavery in North America and the Atlantic slave trade prompted him to create, a non-commercial resource for students, teachers and researchers.

Before he retired after 30 years at Xerox Corp., Frankel, a Brighton resident, had quite a different focus. Early in his career he worked on the rocket engine of the Apollo project’s Service Module, which took the astronauts to and from the moon. Later, at the Sun Oil Co., he concentrated on research and development involving refining processes. Lastly, at Xerox, his responsibility was new product development, research, and product delivery. He authored a number of patents assigned to the company.

In his upcoming illustrated talk on Tubman, Frankel will relate tales of the former slave’s courage.

“One of my favorite stories concerns a group of slaves that she was leading at night on foot through a wooded area," Frankel said. "It was a long hike and Harriet had them walking at a fast pace, because they were being pursued.”

They heard dogs barking and men yelling in the distance.

“One of the male slaves sat down, and would not go any farther, he was exhausted," Frankel said. "He said they should go on without him. Harriet knew that this was unacceptable, and dealt with the situation. I will relate how she ‘convinced’ the man that he should continue the journey.”

Tubman, a native of Maryland, eventually settled in Auburn, Cayuga County. She was a friend of William Seward, President Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of state, and Seward's Auburn home became one of the sites on the Underground Railroad.

Tubman’s own home and associated properties there are now the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park. While she has become a well-known figure, not everything about her life is familiar, Frankel said.

“The sad story of her first marriage to John Tubman is probably not as well known as her accomplishments on the Underground Railroad. When Harriet decided she must escape to the North, she pleaded with her husband, who was a free man, to go with her," Frankel said. "He refused, and later married another woman. I’ll discuss these events, because they helped to shape Harriet’s future role on the Underground Railroad.”

More information

The Ionia United Methodist Church is at 2120 Elton Road. The West Bloomfield Historical Society’s next public program will be in April 2018. For information, call 585-657-7060 or visit

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at RIT has over 50 offerings per term to inspire adult learners over the age of 50. Subjects reflect a variety of interests — all without the pressure of exams or homework. To learn more, visit or call 585-292-8989.