GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — From Muskegon all the way to Detroit, the state of Michigan has released a new interactive map to share the stories of African Americans who used the Underground Railroad to escape slavery.

The map, made in partnership with the Michigan Freedom Trail, highlights points of interest across Michigan. One is the gravesite of a history maker in the heart of Grand Rapids.

His name was Isaac Edward Bailey — a Black man born into slavery in Virginia in 1816 who escaped to freedom using the Underground Railroad. He not only fought for his own freedom, but also the liberation of others by joining the United States Army.

“Did you know that Grand Rapids has the nation’s most remarkable colored man?” a 1919 newspaper article wrote about Bailey.

After living an eventful life, Bailey died in Grand Rapids at 105 years old and was buried at Oak Hill Cemetery, near the intersection of Hall Street and Eastern Avenue.

The grave of Isaac Edward Bailey, a Black man who escaped slavery through the Underground Railroad and served in the Union Army. He died at 105 and is buried in Grand Rapids. (Feb. 28, 2023)

“This isn’t just a story about white people helping Black people. Black people were helping themselves and they were both agents in the Underground Railroad and people who were self-liberating,” said Sandra Clark, the director of the Michigan History Center.

“He was born into slavery in Virginia and as you know he traveled to many places before getting to Michigan,” added Clark.

After using the Underground Railroad, Bailey lived his life as a free man in Canada working odd jobs. The Civil War broke out and Bailey bravely became a pioneer for African Americans seeking freedom just like himself. He joined the First New York Cavalry as a horse keeper and eventually joined the 102nd Colored Infantry in January 1863.

“This was something you couldn’t do at the beginning of the Civil War if you were an African American man,” said Clark.

A June 25, 1904 edition of the Grand Rapids Post featured a photo of Isaac Edward Bailey. (Feb. 28, 2023)

According to research from the Grand Rapids Urban League, 1,600 men from Michigan enlisted in the Civil War, authorized by Gov. Austin Blair. 

Thirty Black soldiers were from Grand Rapids, one being an Isaac Edward Bailey. 

“After the Emancipation Proclamation, they allowed Black people to be soldiers in the Union Army and he was one of them,” said Clark. 

“It is possible to change things and it’s possible to change our lives. To me, this is a really important story and it’s a reminder of where we’ve come from and we need to know that,” she added. 

Bailey met his wife Clarissa Bordley in Grand Haven. The couple moved to Grand Rapids in 1868, where they raised six children. 

With the help of the state’s new map, Bailey’s legacy can now be discovered by more people. 

“All of the sites, some are just historical markers, several of them are cemeteries. With this map people can find out where they are and go visit and learn a little bit more about their history,” said Clark.

There are 24 sites on the interactive map and the hope is to keep learning and adding more facts to Michigan history.

*Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the year in which Bailey joined the Army. We regret the mistake, which has been fixed.