Connie Martin

Connie Martin headshot

Connie Martin uses oral history and the arts to tell the stories of how enslaved people sought freedom and hope.

Connie Martin, MA, is a retired teacher and popular veteran fitness instructor. As a Road Scholar, she provides historical education through engaging live presentations to create awareness, growth, and inspiration for Illinois communities.

This scholar is fully booked through 2023. Bookings for 2024 will open on Nov. 3, 2023.

You may also book them outside of any Illinois Humanities affiliation using the contact information provided in the "Booking Information" section.

Presentation 1 of 2

Hidden Messages in Negro Spirituals on the Underground Railroad

Powerful, sacred songs that derived from the heart of the antebellum enslaved African were melodic outflowings of religious expression, passion, and the hope to be free. Negro spirituals, as originated in America, tell of sorrow, trials and tribulations, secrecy and hiding, and hope for a sense of community.

Join Connie as she explains the connections of plantation songs, or Negro Spirituals with meanings and interpretations of lyrics of some songs used in regions of the South that signaled a multiple of signs and tips that aided enslaved fugitives to find freedom.

Program Logistics

The presentation takes approximately 60 minutes. No equipment is necessary.

Presentation 2 of 2

Pre-Civil War Quilts: Secret Codes to Freedom on the Underground Railroad

Join Connie as she tells the stories passed down to her great-grandmother Lizzie of how her family survived the antebellum period through trials and tribulations, and how they used quilts that contained hidden codes and secret messages to assist abolitionists–white and black–to guide enslaved people to freedom through the Underground Railroad to Canada.

During this presentation, Connie shares eighteen different quilt patterns in replica quilts and refers to a book her mother, Dr. Clarice Boswell, wrote about their family called Lizzie’s Story: A Slave Family’s Journey to Freedom.

Program Logistics

The presentation takes approximately 60 minutes. No equipment is necessary.


Connie Martin is a retired middle school Language Arts teacher of 32 years, 35-year Aqua Fitness Master Trainer, Senior Fitness Instructor, and mother of three sons. She earned a BA from Illinois State University, and an MA from Aurora University with a Thesis in Integrating African American History in Educational Curriculums. Martin finds joy in telling the secret codes and hidden messages used over 200 years ago by abolitionists and fugitive slaves to signify escape routes to the North—and in the family quilts of her ancestors. Such shows how quilts were used to signal plans, warn of dangers, indicate how transport might occur, or who might help as “Friends” on the Underground Railroad.

Connie’s mother, Clarice Boswell, wrote a book, Lizzie’s Story: A Slave Family’s Journey to Freedom, then created and performed this family presentation for 16 years. Her words are the foundation of the presentation, and currently being made into a movie, “Freedom Code.”

Book this Road Scholar

Follow the steps below to book a presentation.
  1. Contact Connie to schedule a date and time via email at
  2. Once you and Connie have agreed upon a date and time, complete the online Road Scholars Host Organization application.
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Director of Statewide Programs