Walk Across Chester County

Long Distance Hiker to Begin 75-mile Walk Across Chester County

Exploring African American History

From Hinsonville to Phoenixville

Kennett Square, PA – October 5, 2023 – Long Distance Hiker to Begin 75-mile Walk in Hinsonville at Lincoln University

A Philadelphia walking artist plans to walk across Chester County beginning next week from the Historic Hosanna African Union Methodist Protestant Church in Hinsonville to Phoenixville exploring African American communities from the 19th Century to present day.

“Chester County has a long history in promoting Social Justice and Civil Rights. On my upcoming walk across the county, I hope to learn about African Americans who lived here in the 19th and 20th centuries and pursued freedom as guaranteed in the U.S. constitution,” said Ken Johnston

The walk will connect some of the historic African-American communities across Chester County established in the early 1800s with the new 7.5-mile Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway extension from the Delaware line along Route 52.  “This new byway helps tell the courageous story of the journey of Black Americans from slavery to freedom, as well as the story of those who fought for all people in America to be free,” said Carrie Fischer Lepore, Deputy Secretary for Marketing, Tourism and Film at the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.

Starting in Hinsonville, at Lincoln University, on Monday October 9, Johnston plans to walk across the Southern part of the county to the historic Bucktoe Cemetery in New Garden Township where a small Black community once existed to welcome Freedom Seekers escaping slavery in Delaware and Maryland. From Bucktoe the walk continues north to New Garden Memorial Union American Methodist Episcopal Church in Kennett Square before concluding day two of the walk in Pocopson Township at Barnard Station, a National Park Service National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom site.

On day three of the walk, Johnston plans to visit Unionville High School, site of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1967 speech here in Chester County. Day four of the walk, heads northwest across Route 82, along Doe Run Road to People’s Hall ending in Valley Township at the Passtown Elementary School Building.

Passtown Elementary School is a historic African American school building built in 1923 during the separate but equal era of racially segregated schools in Chester County. The Passtown Elementary School anchors the mostly African American Hayti neighborhood.

From Coatesville, the walk continues onward to Caln, Downingtown, and West Chester before concluding in Phoenixville on Sunday October 15.

The goal of the walk is to meet and interview living descendants of African Americans and Quakers who trace their family history back to the Underground Railroad movement in Chester County. Some of these families may have been involved in post Reconstruction, or Civil Rights activities of the 1950s and 60s, like Bayard Rustin, Johnston said. “I’m casting a wide net in hopes of meeting descendants who are interested in talking about their family’s history. Some may have been church leaders, business entrepreneurs, or farmers.”

“My interest in walking across Chester County comes a year after I completed a walk to Canada following the Underground Railroad to St. Catharines, Ontario, where Harriet Tubman once lived before returning to the U.S. On that walk, crossing into Chester County was a very spiritual part of the journey for me.  It was one of many solitary moments of triumph I would feel on the walk, but one of the rarest of moments when I would feel truly connected to Tubman and other ancestors in mind, body and spirit as I crossed over the Pennsylvania line.

“I’m doing this walk to promote movement as part of everyday healthy living,” Johnston said, adding, “additionally, I see this journey as generating a series of questions and observations about the barriers that prevent people from enjoying the great outdoors. I look forward to sharing stories about my long-distance walking experience with civic groups and area schools during my walk.”