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House OKs bill to preserve Underground Railroad sites

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Two lawmakers whose ancestors helped blacks escape slavery have won House passage of a bill to preserve sites on the Underground Railroad.

"This legislation can really foster a sense of racial harmony," said Rep. Rob Portman, a white Ohio Republican who sponsored the bill with Ohio Democratic Rep. Louis Stokes, who is black.Stokes described the Underground Railroad, which refers to the network that helped hide slaves seeking freedom before and during the Civil War, as a "dramatic protest against slavery" that was worth preserving.

The bill, approved 415-2 Tuesday night, authorizes the National Park Service to spend $500,000 a year to link sites, produce educational materials and enter partnerships to commemorate the 19th century escape route for slaves.

One such partnership would be with the Underground Railroad Freedom Center, a proposed $80 million museum in Cincinnati that organizers hope to open by 2002.