THE JOHNSON HOUSE, built in the 18th century of stone and dark wood floors, once sheltered black men and women fleeing slavery who hid among its rafters.

They had been guided to this Quaker family farm in Germantown by a lantern in an attic window.

Last Saturday, the poet Sonia Sanchez read of freedom in the room where the Johnsons held meetings with other abolitionists, black and white, men and women.

She talked of writing haiku to about 25 people at the historic landmark on Germantown Avenue at Washington Lane.

"The idea of a poem is always peace," Sanchez, a former professor at Temple University, told the group.

The Johnson House is one of the few remaining intact Philadelphia-area stops along the Underground Railroad, on which formerly enslaved people went on to freedom in New York or Canada.

Historians believe William Still, the black man known as the Father of the Underground Railroad, and Lucretia Mott, the white abolitionist leader and Quaker, both attended meetings in the space where Sanchez taught poetry.

But tradition has it that Harriet Tubman, known as "Moses" for leading an unknown number of people out of slavery, also met with abolitionists, and may have led "freedom seekers" to shelter there, although there is no definite proof.

The Sanchez lecture was the third in a series of workshops in a two-year program created by Historic Germantown called "Elephants on the Avenue."

The idea is for participants to gather at different historic sites to discuss issues of race, class, and community, said Trapeta Mayson, Historic Germantown's executive director.

"We wanted to create a platform where you know you are coming to engage with an artist, to meet your neighbor and enter into a discussion in a nonintimidating way," Mayson said.

"Elephants on the Avenue" comes from the expression "the elephant in the room," for a topic people are hesitant to discuss.

Before the series began - the first workshop took place last November - Mayson attended community meetings where she realized there are concerns about issues of race and gentrification.

"There had been some tensions in this community - there are many groups and most of them are quite well-meaning - but I don't know that we often hear each other," Mayson said.

At last Saturday's workshop, students from Lincoln University and families from Germantown and Mount Airy attended.

They listened to Sanchez read "Bury Me in a Free Land" by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper:

"Make me a grave where'er you will;

In a lowly plain, or a lofty hill;

Make it among earth's humblest graves,

But not in a land where men are slaves."

Sanchez conducted exercises where attendees described smells and tastes, and put their hands on another person's heart to feel their heartbeat, to "hear the humanity" of another living being.

Then, Sanchez asked groups to go to different rooms and write haiku after absorbing the history of the people who once came to the house seeking freedom.

"You can feel the history of the house even without knowing all that had transpired here," said Veronica Carr, a senior journalism major at Lincoln.

"It's the fear of the unknown, the fear of what can take place when the morning comes."

Carr, 22, and African American, said the workshop is timely, as members of her generation are part of a new wave of protests, such as the Black Lives Matter marches.

Paula Paul, a retired public schoolteacher, now active as chair of the Germantown Artists Roundtable, called the "Elephants" series "a really visionary project."

Paul, who is white, said Germantown is a diverse community, but added: "It would enrich our community if people felt trusting and open and knowledgeable about each other."