Oberlin was founded in 1833 by Presbyterian ministers as a religious community. The town and college at first followed strict principles: no alcohol, tobacco or gambling, plain clothes, sober living. The college was the first in the country to admit African American and women students, and has always been associated with progressive causes.
Early on its residents supported abolitionism, and there was a sizable free black community. Those factors, as well as the town’s position near Lake Erie, where boats took runaway slaves to freedom in Canada, meant that Oberlin was a very active stop on the Underground Railroad. As a plaque in Oberlin explains:
A key junction on the Underground Railroad in Oberlin, Ohio connected at least five routes that led from slavery to freedom. No fugitive in Oberlin was ever returned to bondage. Freedom seekers lived openly in the town, and were supported by its vibrant African American community and Oberlin College. All students have been welcome to Oberlin College, regardless of color, since 1835. Faculty and students, both black and white, worked together to assure safe passage on the Underground Railroad, proclaiming their loyalty to “a higher law.” In 1858, town residents rescued John Price from slave catchers who had taken him to nearby Wellington in their efforts to return him to enslavement. Due to this incident, Oberlin was heralded as “the town that started the Civil War.”
For images of Oberlin, including a very cool Underground Railroad sculpture of tracks bursting out of the ground, have a look at this Pinterest board:
For more information about Oberlin, town and college: