ELMIRA, N.Y. (WENY)- As part of the Juneteenth celebration organizers offered a free bus underground railroad tour which included a tour to the John Jones grave site and museum. The President of the museum tells us the museum opened its doors for the first time this year. She partnered with EOP and CTRAN for the Juneteenth celebration and shared the connection between Juneteenth and Jones' legacy.

"Today the museum is open to the public. We're fortunate to be a stop on the underground railroad bus tour from the Juneteenth celebration that EOP and NAACP are offering downtown," Talima Aaron, president of the board of trustees for the John Jones Museum said.

John W. Jones an American hero, escaped slavery, walking almost 300 miles before arriving in Elmira. He was a major player in the underground railroad for over nine years prior to the end of the civil war.

"With the help of local abolitionists, he was able to get the resources to help over 800 people reach freedom," Aaron said.

He was also a sexton for the Woodlawn National Cemetry. Jones managed to bury nearly 3,000 confederate soldiers. Talima says he had compassion and saw these confederate soldiers, not as the enemy.

"He did not harbor hate or have ill feelings. He gave them the dignity that he could not get in life from the same young men. He knew that they were fighting to keep men like him enslaved but he gave them the type of burial that illustrated his humanity," Aaron said.

Jones kept meticulous records so families could identify fallen soldiers who were their loved ones.

"Elmira has a national cemetery because of a person who escaped slavery and kept the kind of records that allowed them to do so," Aaron said.

Talima explains the Jones legacy has a direct tie to the Juneteenth holiday.

"One of the biggest and grandest celebrations was conducted right here John Jones was the president of the day. the orator or speaker of the day was Frederick Douglas. And this was on August the 3rd 1880 and the celebration, they merged two was the emancipation of the British Isles so that's the West Indies as well as the signing of the emancipation proclamation in the states," Aaron said.

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