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FREEDOM TRAIL FESTIVAL HAILED AS 'A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION'

People of many races joined Saturday to celebrate the first Freedom Trail Festival, which observed the flight of African-American slaves from the South crossing into Canada.

On a day of storms, festivalgoers wore smiles and enjoyed socializing with friends and neighbors during the event, on Main Street between Ontario Street and Niagara Avenue.

Many said there are too few cultural events for area African-Americans and their history. But they agreed the festival is a step in the right direction.

Performers from Motherland Connextions performed at the onset, with three women singing and Renee M. Mathews relating the stories of slaves who escaped. She told tales of the Underground Railroad and flight to "the land of Canaan," or Canada.

The slaves would most often cross the Suspension Bridge, now known as the Whirlpool Bridge, to make their exit to the promised land, said Mathews.

Motherland Connextions also offered two 50-cent bus trips to see various sites in the area that were part of the Underground Railroad.

Vendors at the festival sold African shirts, jewelry and wooden masks.

"They should get more of these going. This is really cool," said John L. Myles Jr., a local artist who also teaches private art classes.

The festival also featured foods -- both traditional African and traditional American, from chicken curry with rice to beef on weck.

Valerie Walker of Niagara Falls said that she wants to see the festival expand, adding that it needs more stands "with people selling more African food."

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