Harriet Tubman was the most famous conductor for the Underground Railroad.
Who were major leaders of the Underground Railroad?
8 Key Contributors to the Underground Railroad
- Isaac Hopper. Abolitionist Isaac Hopper.
- John Brown. Abolitionist John Brown, c.
- Harriet Tubman.
- Thomas Garrett.
- William Still.
- Levi Coffin.
- Elijah Anderson.
- Thaddeus Stevens.
Who is most associated with the Underground Railroad?
Harriet Tubman is perhaps the best-known figure related to the underground railroad. She made by some accounts 19 or more rescue trips to the south and helped more than 300 people escape slavery.
Who was the president of the Underground Railroad?
Levi Coffin, (born October 28, 1798, New Garden [now in Greensboro], North Carolina, U.S.—died September 16, 1877, Cincinnati, Ohio), American abolitionist, called the “President of the Underground Railroad,” who assisted thousands of runaway slaves on their flight to freedom.
Who were the engineers in the Underground Railroad?
The people who helped enslaved people escape were called “conductors” or “engineers.” The places along the escape route were called “stations.” Sometimes those escaping were called “passengers.” Sometimes they were called “cargo” or “goods.” Conductors helped passengers get from one station to the next.
Does the Underground Railroad still exist?
It includes four buildings, two of which were used by Harriet Tubman. Ashtabula County had over thirty known Underground Railroad stations, or safehouses, and many more conductors. Nearly two-thirds of those sites still stand today.
Who ended slavery?
In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation declaring “all persons held as slaves… shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free,” effective January 1, 1863. It was not until the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, in 1865, that slavery was formally abolished ( here ).
How old was Levi Coffin when he died?
A part of the legendary Underground Railroad for fleeing slaves of pre-Civil War days, this registered National Historic Landmark is a Federal style brick home built in 1839. Escaping slaves could be hidden in this small upstairs room and the beds moved in front of the door to hide its existence.
What did Frederick Douglass do?
Frederick Douglass was an escaped slave who became a prominent activist, author and public speaker. He became a leader in the abolitionist movement, which sought to end the practice of slavery, before and during the Civil War.
How many slaves were on the Underground Railroad?
The total number of runaways who used the Underground Railroad to escape to freedom is not known, but some estimates exceed 100,000 freed slaves during the antebellum period. Those involved in the Underground Railroad used code words to maintain anonymity.
Where did the name Underground Railroad come from?
It was a name given to the way that people escaped. No one is sure where it originally got its name, but the “underground” part of the name comes from its secrecy and the “railroad” part of the name comes from the way it was used to transport people. The Underground Railroad used railroad terms in its organization.
8 Key Contributors to the Underground Railroad
Isaac Hopper, an abolitionist, is shown in this image from the Kean Collection/Getty Images. As early as 1786, George Washington expressed dissatisfaction with a “organization of Quakers, founded for such reasons,” which had sought to free a neighbor’s slave. Quakers were instrumental in the establishment of the Underground Railroad. Slavery was opposed in especially in Philadelphia, where Isaac Hopper, a Quaker who converted to Christianity, created what has been described as “the first working cell of the abolitionist underground.” Hopper not only protected escaped slave hunters in his own house, but he also constructed a network of safe havens and recruited a web of spies in order to get insight into their plans.
Hopper, a friend of Joseph Bonaparte, the exiled brother of the former French emperor, went to New York City in 1829 and established himself as a successful businessman.
READ MORE: The Underground Railroad and Its Operation
2. John Brown
John Brown, an abolitionist, about 1846 GraphicaArtis/Getty Images courtesy of Similar to his father, John Brown actively participated in the Underground Railroad by hosting runaways at his home and warehouse and organizing an anti-slave catcher militia following the adoption of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, which he inherited from his father. The next year, he joined several of his sons in the so-called “Bleeding Kansas” war, leading one attack that resulted in the deaths of five pro-slavery settlers in 1856.
Brown’s radicalization continued to grow, and his ultimate act occurred in October 1859, when he and 21 supporters seized the government arsenal in Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia), in an effort to incite a large-scale slave uprising.
3. Harriet Tubman
Harriet Tubman was born into slavery on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where she experienced repeated violent beatings, one of which involving a two-pound lead weight, which left her with seizures and migraines for the rest of her life. Tubman fled bondage in 1849, following the North Star on a 100-mile walk into Pennsylvania, fearing she would be sold and separated from her family. She died in the process. She went on to become the most well-known “conductor” on the Underground Railroad, participating in around 13 rescue missions back into Maryland and rescuing at least 70 enslaved individuals, including several of her siblings.
As a scout, spy, and healer for the Union Army, Tubman maintained her anti-slavery activities during the Civil War, and is believed to have been the first woman in the United States to lead troops into battle. Tubman died in 1865. When Harriet Tubman Led a Civil War Raid, You Should Pay Attention
4. Thomas Garrett
‘Thomas Garrett’ is a fictional character created by author Thomas Garrett. The New York Public Library is a public library in New York City. The Quaker “stationmaster” Thomas Garrett, who claimed to have assisted over 2,750 escaped slaves before the commencement of the Civil War, lived in Wilmington, Delaware, and Tubman frequently stopped there on her route up north. Garret not only gave his guests with a place to stay but also with money, clothing & food. He even personally led them to a more secure area on occasion, arm in arm.
Despite this, he persisted in his efforts.
He also stated that “if any of you know of any poor slave who needs assistance, please send him to me, as I now publicly pledge myself to double my diligence and never miss an opportunity to assist a slave to obtain freedom.”
5. William Still
Mister Garrett is a fictitious character created by author Thomas Garrett. The New York Public Library is a public library located in New York City. The Quaker “stationmaster” Thomas Garrett, who claimed to have assisted over 2,750 escaped slaves before the commencement of the Civil War, lived in Wilmington, Delaware, and Tubman frequently stopped there on her trip north. As well as a place to stay, Garrett offered his guests with money, clothing, and food, and he occasionally physically led them arm-in-arm to a more secure area.
However, he was unafraid to continue.
6. Levi Coffin
‘Thomas Garrett’ is a pseudonym for Thomas Garrett. The New York Public Library is a public library located in Manhattan. On her route north, Tubman frequently visited at the house of her acquaintance Thomas Garrett, a Quaker “stationmaster” who claimed to have assisted over 2,750 fleeing slaves before to the commencement of the Civil War in Wilmington, Delaware. Along with a place to stay, Garrett offered his guests with money, clothing, and food, and he occasionally physically led them arm-in-arm to a more secure area.
Despite this, he was unwavering in his resolve.
7. Elijah Anderson
The Ohio River, which formed the border between slave and free states, was referred to as the River Jordan in abolitionist circles because it represented the border between slave and free states. Madison, Indiana, was an especially appealing crossing point for enslaved persons on the run, because to an Underground Railroad cell established there by blacksmith Elijah Anderson and several other members of the town’s Black middle class in the 1850s. With his fair skin, Anderson might have passed for a white slave owner on his repeated travels into Kentucky, where would purportedly pick up 20 to 30 enslaved persons at a time and whisk them away to freedom, sometimes accompanying them as far as the Coffins’ mansion in Newport.
An anti-slavery mob devastated Madison in 1846, almost drowning an agent of the Underground Railroad, prompting Anderson to flee upriver to Lawrenceburg, Indiana, where he eventually settled.
8. Thaddeus Stevens
River Jordan was the name given to the Ohio River by abolitionists because it marked the border between slave and free states and represented the border between slave and free states. The Underground Railroad cell established at Madison, Indiana, by blacksmith Elijah Anderson and several other members of the town’s Black middle class, served as a particularly appealing crossing point for enslaved persons on the run during the Civil War. With his fair skin, Anderson might have passed for a white slave owner on his repeated travels into Kentucky, where he reportedly picked up 20 to 30 enslaved persons at a time and whisked them away to freedom, sometimes accompanying them as far as the Coffins’ mansion in Newport, Kentucky.
Anderson escaped upriver to Lawrenceburg, Indiana, after being attacked by a mob of pro-slavery whites in Madison in 1846, almost drowning an Underground Railroad agent.
Anderson was found dead in his cell in 1861, on what some sources claim was the exact day of his parole, according to other accounts.
Myths About the Underground Railroad
When it comes to teaching African-American Studies today, one of the great delights is the satisfaction that comes from being able to restore to the historical record “lost” events and the persons whose sacrifices and bravery enabled those events to take place, never to be lost again. Among our ancestors’ long and dreadful history of human bondage is the Underground Railroad, which has garnered more recent attention from teachers, students, museum curators, and the tourism industry than any other institution from the black past.
- Nevertheless, in the effort to convey the narrative of this magnificent institution, fiction and lore have occasionally taken precedence over historical truth.
- The sacrifices and valor of our forefathers and foremothers, as well as their allies, are made all the more noble, heroic, and striking as a result.
- I think this is a common misconception among students.
- As described by Wilbur H.
Running slaves, frequently in groups of up to several families, were said to have been directed at night on their desperate journey to freedom by the traditional “Drinking Gourd,” which was the slaves’ secret name for the North Star.
The Railroad in Lore
Following is a brief list of some of the most frequent myths regarding the Underground Railroad, which includes the following examples: 1. It was administered by well-intentioned white abolitionists, many of whom were Quakers. 2. The Underground Railroad was active throughout the southern United States. Most runaway slaves who managed to make their way north took refuge in secret quarters hidden in attics or cellars, while many more managed to escape through tunnels. Fourteenth, slaves made so-called “freedom quilts,” which they displayed outside their homes’ windows to signal fugitives to the whereabouts of safe houses and safe ways north to freedom.
When slaves heard the spiritual “Steal Away,” they knew Harriet Tubman was on her way to town, or that an ideal opportunity to run was approaching.
scholars like Larry Gara, who wrote The Liberty Line: The Legend of the Underground Railroad and Blight, among other works, have worked tirelessly to address all of these problems, and I’ll outline the proper answers based on their work, and the work of others, at the conclusion of this piece.
A Meme Is Born
As Blight correctly points out, the railroad has proven to be one of the most “enduring and popular strands in the fabric of America’s national historical memory.” Since the end of the nineteenth century, many Americans, particularly in New England and the Midwest, have either made up legends about the deeds of their ancestors or simply repeated stories that they have heard about their forebears.
It’s worth taking a look at the history of the phrase “Underground Railroad” before diving into those tales, though.
Tice Davids was a Kentucky slave who managed to escape to Ohio in 1831, and it is possible that the phrase “Underground Railroad” was invented as a result of his successful escape.
According to Blight, he is believed to have said that Davids had vanished as though “the nigger must have gone off on an underground railroad.” This is a fantastic narrative — one that would be worthy of Richard Pryor — but it is improbable, given that train lines were non-existent at the time.
The fleeing slave from Washington, D.C., who was tortured and forced to testify that he had been taken north, where “the railroad extended underground all the way to Boston,” according to one report from 1839, was captured.
constructed from Mason and Dixon’s to the Canada line, upon which fugitives from slavery might come pouring into this province” is the first time the term appears.
14, 1842, in the Liberator, a date that may be supported by others who claim that abolitionist Charles T. Torrey invented the phrase in 1842, according to abolitionist Charles T. Torrey. As David Blight points out, the phrase did not become widely used until the mid-1840s, when it was first heard.
Myth Battles Counter-Myth
It has proven to be one of America’s greatest “enduring and popular threads in the fabric of the nation’s national historical memory,” as Blight puts it so eloquently. Numerous Americans, particularly those in New England and the Midwest, have either made up stories about their ancestors’ adventures or simply repeated stories they have heard about them since the end of the nineteenth century. It’s worth taking a look at the history of the phrase “Underground Railroad” before diving into those tales, though.
Because of his successful escape from Kentucky to Ohio in 1831, it is possible that the phrase “Underground Railroad” was developed as a result of his experience.
According to Blight, he is believed to have said that Davids had vanished, as though “the nigger must have gotten away on the subterranean railroad.” It’s a fantastic tale, and one that would be worthy of Richard Pryor, however the likelihood of this happening is remote given the lack of train infrastructure at the time.
- The fleeing slave from Washington, D.C., who was tortured and forced to testify that he had been taken north, where “the railroad extended underground all the way to Boston,” according to one report from 1839.
- 11, 1839, in an editorial by Hiram Wilson of Toronto, who called for the construction of “a great republican railroad.
- 14, 1842, in the Liberator, a date that may be supported by others who claim that abolitionist Charles T.
- As David Blight points out, the term did not become widely used until the mid-1840s, when it was first recorded.
Truth Reveals Unheralded Heroism
That’s a little amount of history; what about those urban legends? The answers are as follows: It cannot be overstated that the Underground Railroad and the abolitionist movement itself were possibly the first examples in American history of a truly multiracial alliance, and the role played by the Quakers in its success cannot be overstated. Despite this, it was primarily controlled by free Northern African Americans, particularly in its early years, with the most notable exception being the famous Philadelphian William Still, who served as its president.
- The Underground Railroad was made possible by the efforts of white and black activists such as Levi Coffin, Thomas Garrett, Calvin Fairbank, Charles Torrey, Harriet Tubman and Still, all of whom were true heroes.
- Because of the adoption of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, the railroad’s growth did not take place until after that year.
- After all, it was against the law to help slaves in their attempts to emancipate themselves.
- Being an abolitionist or a conductor on the Underground Railroad, according to the historian Donald Yacovone, “was about as popular and hazardous as being a member of the Communist Party in 1955,” he said in an email to me.
- The Underground Railroad was predominantly a phenomena of the Northern United States.
- For the most part, fugitive slaves were left on their own until they were able to cross the Ohio River or the Mason-Dixon Line and thereby reach a Free State.
- For fugitives in the North, well-established routes and conductors existed, as did some informal networks that could transport fugitives from places such as the abolitionists’ office or houses in Philadelphia to other locations north and west.
(where slavery remained legal until 1862), as well as in a few locations throughout the Upper South, some organized support was available.
I’m afraid there aren’t many.
Furthermore, few dwellings in the North were equipped with secret corridors or hidden rooms where slaves might be hidden.
What about freedom quilts?
The only time a slave family had the resources to sew a quilt was to shelter themselves from the cold, not to relay information about alleged passages on the Underground Railroad that they had never visited.
As we will discover in a future column, the danger of treachery about individual escapes and collective rebellions was much too large for escape plans to be publicly shared.5.
No one has a definitive answer.
According to Elizabeth Pierce, an administrator at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, the figure might be as high as 100,000, but that appears to be an overstatement.
We may put these numbers into context by noting that there were 3.9 million slaves and only 488,070 free Negroes in 1860 (with more than half of them still living in the South), whereas there were 434,495 free Negroes in 1850 (with more than half still living in the South).
The fact that only 101 fleeing slaves ever produced book-length “slave narratives” describing their servitude until the conclusion of the Civil War is also significant to keep in mind while thinking about this topic.
However, just a few of them made it to safety.
How did the fugitive get away?
John Hope Franklin and Loren Schweninger, as summarized by Blight, “80 percent of these fugitives were young guys in their teens and twenties who absconded alone on the majority of occasions.
Because of their household and child-rearing duties, young slave women were significantly less likely to flee than older slave women.
Lyford in 1896 reported that he could not recall “any fugitives ever being transported by anyone, they always had to pilot their own canoe with the little help that they received,” suggesting that “the greatest number of fugitives were self-emancipating individuals who, upon reaching a point in their lives when they could no longer tolerate their captive status, finally just took off for what had been a long and difficult journey.” 7.
What is “Steal Away”?
They used them to communicate secretly with one another in double-voiced discussions that neither the master nor the overseer could comprehend.
However, for reasons of safety, privacy, security, and protection, the vast majority of slaves who escaped did so alone and covertly, rather than risking their own safety by notifying a large number of individuals outside of their families about their plans, for fear of betraying their masters’ trust.
Just consider the following for a moment: If fleeing slavery had been thus planned and maintained on a systematic basis, slavery would most likely have been abolished long before the American Civil War, don’t you think?
According to Blight, “Much of what we call the Underground Railroad was actually operated clandestinely by African Americans themselves through urban vigilance committees and rescue squads that were often led by free blacks.” The “Underground Railroad” was a marvelously improvised, metaphorical construct run by courageous heroes, the vast majority of whom were black.
Gara’s study revealed that “running away was a terrible and risky idea for slaves,” according to Blight, and that the total numbers of slaves who risked their lives, or even those who succeeded in escaping, were “not huge.” There were thousands of heroic slaves who were helped by the organization, each of whom should be remembered as heroes of African-American history, but there were not nearly as many as we often believe, and certainly not nearly enough.
Approximately fifty-five of the 100 Amazing Facts will be published on the website African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross. On The Root, you may find all 100 facts.
What is the Underground Railroad? – Underground Railroad (U.S. National Park Service)
Harvey Lindsley captured a shot of Harriet Tubman. THE CONGRESSIONAL LIBRARY
I was the conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can’t say—I neverran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.
When we talk about the Underground Railroad, we’re talking about the attempts of enslaved African Americans to obtain their freedom by escaping bondage. The Underground Railroad was a method of resisting slavery by escape and flight from 1850 until the end of the Civil War. Escape attempts were made in every location where slavery was practiced. In the beginning, to maroon villages in distant or rough terrain on the outside of inhabited regions, and later, across state and international borders.
- The majority of freedom seekers began their journey unaided and the majority of them completed their self-emancipation without assistance.
- It’s possible that the choice to aid a freedom seeking was taken on the spur of the moment.
- People of various ethnicities, social classes, and genders took part in this massive act of civil disobedience, despite the fact that what they were doing was unlawful.
- A map of the United States depicting the many paths that freedom seekers might follow in order to attain freedom.
- All thirteen original colonies, as well as Spanish California, Louisiana and Florida; Central and South America; and all of the Caribbean islands were slave states until the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) and British abolition of slavery brought an end to the practice in 1804.
- The Underground Railroad had its beginnings at the site of enslavement in the United States.
- The proximity to ports, free territories, and international borders caused a large number of escape attempts.
- Freedom seekers used their inventiveness to devise disguises, forgeries, and other techniques, drawing on their courage and brains in the process.
- The assistance came from a varied range of groups, including enslaved and free blacks, American Indians, and people from a variety of religious and cultural backgrounds.
- Because of their links to the whaling business, the Pacific West Coast and potentially Alaska became popular tourist destinations.
During the American Civil War, many freedom seekers sought refuge and liberty by fleeing to the Union army’s lines of communication.
See how abolitionists in the United States, like as Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and Thomas Garrett, assisted enslaved people in their attempts to escape to freedom. Learn about the abolitionist movement in the United States, as well as the importance of the Underground Railroad in this historical period. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. is a publishing company that publishes encyclopedias. View all of the videos related to this topic. When escaped slaves from the South were secretly assisted by sympathetic Northerners, in defiance of the Fugitive Slave Acts, to reach safe havens in the North or Canada, this was referred to as the Underground Railroad in the United States.
Even though it was neither underground nor a railroad, it was given this name because its actions had to be carried out in secret, either via the use of darkness or disguise, and because railroad words were employed in relation to the system’s operation.
In all directions, the network of channels stretched over 14 northern states and into “the promised land” of Canada, where fugitive-slave hunters were unable to track them down or capture them.
Harriet Beecher Stowe, best known for her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, obtained firsthand experience of escaped slaves via her association with the Underground Railroad in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she lived for a time during the Civil War.
The existence of the Underground Railroad, despite the fact that it was only a small minority of Northerners who took part in it, did much to arouse Northern sympathy for the plight of slaves during the antebellum period, while also convincing many Southerners that the North as a whole would never peacefully allow the institution of slavery to remain unchallenged.
When was the first time a sitting president of the United States appeared on television?
Amy Tikkanen has made the most current revisions and updates to this page.
Civil War on the Western Border: The Missouri-Kansas Conflict, 1854-1865
See how abolitionists in the United States, like as Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and Thomas Garrett, assisted enslaved people in their attempts to escape to independence. Learn about the abolitionist movement in the United States, as well as the importance of the Underground Railroad in this campaign. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. is a publishing company that specializes in encyclopedias. This page contains a number of videos. It is a term used to refer to the Underground Railroad, which was a system that existed in the Northern states prior to the Civil War by which escaped slaves from the South were secretly assisted by sympathetic Northerners, in defiance of the Fugitive Slave Acts, to reach safe havens in the North or Canada.
It was known as lines, halting sites were known as stations, people who assisted along the way were called conductors, and their charges known as packages or freight were known as packages or freight were known as freight In all directions, the network of channels stretched over 14 northern states and into “the promised land” of Canada, where fugitive-slave hunters were unable to track them down and capture them.
Members of the free black community (including former slaves such as Harriet Tubman), Northern abolitionists, benefactors, and church leaders such as Quaker Thomas Garrett were among those who most actively enabled slaves to escape by use of the “railroad.” During her time working with the Underground Railroad in Cincinnati, Ohio, Harriet Beecher Stowe, best known for her novelUncle Tom’s Cabin, got firsthand experience of escaped slaves.
From 40,000 to 100,000 black individuals, according to various estimates, were released during the American Civil War.
Test your knowledge of the Britannica.
The first time a president of the United States appeared on television was in the year 1960. The all-American responses may be found by going back in time. In the most recent revision and update, Amy Tikkanen provided further information.
- Discover how abolitionists in the United States, such as Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and Thomas Garrett, assisted enslaved people in escaping to freedom. Learn about the abolitionist movement in the United States, particularly the role played by the Underground Railroad. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. is a publishing company that produces encyclopedias. See all of the videos related to this topic. When escaped slaves from the South were surreptitiously assisted by sympathetic Northerners, in defiance of the Fugitive Slave Acts, to reach safe havens in the North or Canada, this was referred to as the Underground Railroad in the United States. Despite the fact that it was neither underground nor a railroad, it was given this name because its actions had to be carried out in secret, utilizing darkness or disguise, and because railroad words were employed in relation to the system’s operation. There were several routes known as lines, halting points known as stations, people who assisted along the way were known as conductors, and the charges they collected were known as packages or freight. In all directions, the network of channels stretched over 14 northern states and into “the promised land” of Canada, where fugitive-slave hunters were unable to track them down. Members of the free black community (including former slaves such as Harriet Tubman), Northern abolitionists, benefactors, and church leaders such as Quaker Thomas Garrett were among those who most actively enabled slaves to flee by use of the “railroad.” During her time working with the Underground Railroad in Cincinnati, Ohio, Harriet Beecher Stowe, who is well known for her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, had firsthand experience of escaped slaves. According to various estimates, between 40,000 and 100,000 black people achieved freedom. The existence of the Underground Railroad, despite the fact that it was only a small minority of Northerners who took part in it, did much to arouse Northern sympathy for the plight of the slave in the antebellum period, while also convincing many Southerners that the North as a whole would never peacefully allow the institution of slavery to remain unchallenged. Test your knowledge of the Britannica Encyclopedia Quiz on American History as a Whole What was the identity of the first Edsel? When was the first time a president of the United States appeared on television? Return to the past for the all-American responses. Amy Tikkanen has most recently amended and updated this article.
Conductors from Kansas may easily cross the border into Missouri in order to establish contact with suspected runaway passengers. During the war, slaves residing in Missouri, which was so near to the free state of Kansas, were especially enticed to utilize the Underground Railroad to cross the border into the free state of Kansas to escape. Despite the fact that he did not know exact ways into Kansas, one African-American man expressed his confidence in his ability to reach Lawrence, a town around 40 miles from the state line and home to “the Yankees,” which means “the Yankees are waiting for you.” Conductors frequently provided fugitives with clothing and food for their excursions, and even did it at their own expense on occasion.
- Due to the possibility of being questioned by pursuers, several conductors preferred not to know specific information about the fugitives they assisted.
- In the aftermath of their successful escapes to other free states, a small number of passengers returned to Kansas, including William Dominick Matthews, a first lieutenant in the Independent Battery of the United States Colored Light Artillery in Fort Leavenworth.
- Matthews maintained a boarding house in Leavenworth, Kansas, with the assistance of Daniel R.
- Aside from that, as could be expected, very little is known about the specific individuals and families that aided or were assisted by the Underground Railroad.
If you want to know what this country is all about, I always say, you have to ride the rails,” the train’s conductor tells Cora, the fictitious protagonist of Colson Whitehead’s 2016 novelThe Underground Railroad, as she walks into a boxcar destined for the North. As you race through, take a look about you to see the genuine face of America.” Cora’s vision is limited to “just blackness, mile after mile,” according to Whitehead, as she peers through the carriage’s slats. In the course of her traumatic escape from servitude, the adolescent eventually understands that the conductor’s remark was “a joke.
- Cora and Caesar, a young man enslaved on the same Georgia plantation as her, are on their way to liberation when they encounter a dark other world in which they use the railroad to go to freedom.
- ” The Underground Railroad,” a ten-part limited series premiering this week on Amazon Prime Video, is directed by Moonlight filmmaker Barry Jenkins and is based on the renowned novel by Alfred North Whitehead.
- When it comes to portraying slavery, Jenkins takes a similar approach to Whitehead’s in the series’ source material.
- “And as a result, I believe their individuality has been preserved,” Jenkins says Felix.
The consequences of their actions are being inflicted upon them.” Here’s all you need to know about the historical backdrop that informs both the novel and the streaming adaptation of “The Underground Railroad,” which will premiere on May 14th. (There will be spoilers for the novel ahead.)
Did Colson Whitehead baseThe Underground Railroadon a true story?
“The reality of things,” in Whitehead’s own words, is what he aims to portray in his work, not “the facts.” His characters are entirely made up, and the story of the book, while based on historical facts, is told in an episodic style, as is the case with most episodic fiction. This book traces Cora’s trek to freedom, describing her lengthy trip from Georgia to the Carolinas, Tennessee and Indiana.) Each step of the journey presents a fresh set of hazards that are beyond Cora’s control, and many of the people she meets suffer horrible ends.) What distinguishes The Underground Railroad from previous works on the subject is its presentation of the titular network as a physical rather than a figurative transportation mechanism.
According to Whitehead, who spoke to NPR in 2016, this alteration was prompted by his “childhood belief” that the Underground Railroad was a “literal tunnel beneath the earth”—a misperception that is surprisingly widespread.
Webber Public domain image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons While the Underground Railroad was composed of “local networks of anti-slavery people,” both Black and white, according to Pulitzer Prize–winning historianEric Foner, the Underground Railroad actually consisted of “local networks of anti-slavery people, both Black and white, who assisted fugitives in various ways,” from raising funds for the abolitionist cause to taking cases to court to concealing runaways in safe houses.
Although the actual origins of the name are unknown, it was in widespread usage by the early 1840s.
Manisha Sinha, author of The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition, argues that the Underground Railroad should be referred to as the “Abolitionist Underground” rather than the “Underground Railroad” because the people who ran it “were not just ordinary, well-meaning Northern white citizens, activists, particularly in the free Black community,” she says.
As Foner points out, however, “the majority of the initiative, and the most of the danger, fell on the shoulders of African-Americans who were fleeing.” a portrait taken in 1894 of Harriet Jacobs, who managed to hide in an attic for nearly seven years after fleeing from slavery.
Public domain image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons “Recognizable historical events and patterns,” according to Foner, are used by Whitehead in a way that is akin to that of the late Toni Morrison.
According to Sinha, these effects may be seen throughout Cora’s journey.
According to Foner, author of the 2015 bookGateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad, “the more you know about this history, the more you can appreciate what Whitehead is doing in fusing the past and the present, or perhaps fusing the history of slavery with what happened after the end of slavery.”
What time period doesThe Underground Railroadcover?
Caesar (Aaron Pierre) and Cora (Thuso Mbedu) believe they’ve discovered a safe haven in South Carolina, but their new companions’ behaviors are based on a belief in white supremacy, as seen by their deeds. Kyle Kaplan is a producer at Amazon Studios. The Underground Railroad takes place around the year 1850, which coincides with the adoption of the Fugitive Slave Act. Runaways who had landed in free states were targeted by severe regulations, and those who supported them were subjected to heavy punishments.
In spite of the fact that it was intended to hinder the Underground Railroad, according to Foner and Sinha, the legislation actually galvanized—and radicalized—the abolitionist cause.
“Every time the individual switches to a different condition, the novel restarts,” the author explains in his introduction.
” Cora’s journey to freedom is replete with allusions to pivotal moments in post-emancipation history, ranging from the Tuskegee Syphilis Study in the mid-20th century to white mob attacks on prosperous Black communities in places like Wilmington, North Carolina (targeted in 1898), and Tulsa, Oklahoma (targeted in 1898).
According to Spencer Crew, former president of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and emeritus director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, this “chronological jumble” serves as a reminder that “the abolition of slavery does not herald the abolition of racism and racial attacks.” This problem has survived in many forms, with similar effects on the African American community,” says the author.
What real-life events doesThe Underground Railroaddramatize?
Though they believe they’ve discovered a safe haven in South Carolina, Caesar (Aaron Pierre) and Cora (Thuso Mbedu) soon discover that their newfound friends’ acts are motivated by a conviction in white supremacy. The Amazon Studios team, led by Kyle Kaplan, When the Fugitive Slave Act was passed in 1850, it was during this time that the Underground Railroad came into being. Runaways who had landed in free states were targeted by severe regulations, and those who supported them were subjected to heavy punishments.
According to Foner and Sinha, the measure, which was intended to hinder the Underground Railroad, instead galvanized—and radicalized—the abolitionist cause.
“Every time a character moves to a different state, the novel restarts,” the author noted in his introduction.
Cora’s journey to freedom is replete with allusions to pivotal events in post-emancipation history, ranging from the Tuskegee Syphilis Study in the mid-20th century to white mob attacks on prosperous Black communities in places like Wilmington, North Carolina (targeted in 1898), and Tulsa, Oklahoma (targeted in 1898).
According to Spencer Crew, former president of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and emeritus director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, this “chronological jumble” serves as a reminder that “the abolition of slavery does not herald the abolition of racism and racial attacks.” These challenges continue to exist in various forms, with comparable consequences for the African-American community.
How doesThe Underground Railroadreflect the lived experience of slavery?
“How can I construct a psychologically plausible plantation?” Whitehead is said to have pondered himself while writing on the novel. According to theGuardian, the author decided to think about “people who have been tortured, brutalized, and dehumanized their whole lives” rather than depicting “a pop culture plantation where there’s one Uncle Tom and everyone is just incredibly nice to each other.” For the remainder of Whitehead’s statement, “Everyone will be battling for the one additional mouthful of food in the morning, fighting for the tiniest piece of property.” According to me, this makes sense: “If you put individuals together who have been raped and tortured, this is how they would behave.” Despite the fact that she was abandoned as a child by her mother, who appears to be the only enslaved person to successfully escape Ridgeway’s clutches, Cora lives in the Hob, a derelict building reserved for outcasts—”those who had been crippled by the overseers’ punishments,.
who had been broken by the labor in ways you could see and in ways you couldn’t see, who had lost their wits,” as Whitehead describes Cora is played by Mbedu (center).
With permission from Amazon Studios’ Atsushi Nishijima While attending a rare birthday party for an older enslaved man, Cora comes to the aid of an orphaned youngster who mistakenly spills some wine down the sleeve of their captor, prompting him to flee.
Cora agrees to accompany Caesar on his journey to freedom a few weeks later, having been driven beyond the threshold of endurance by her punishment and the bleakness of her ongoing life as a slave.
As a result, those who managed to flee faced the potential of severe punishment, he continues, “making it a perilous and risky option that individuals must choose with care.” By making Cora the central character of his novel, Whitehead addresses themes that especially plagued enslaved women, such as the fear of rape and the agony of carrying a child just to have the infant sold into captivity elsewhere.
The account of Cora’s sexual assault in the novel is heartbreakingly concise, with the words “The Hob ladies stitched her up” serving as the final word.
Although not every enslaved women was sexually assaulted or harassed, they were continuously under fear of being raped, mistreated, or harassed, according to the report.
With permission from Amazon Studios’ Atsushi Nishijima The novelist’s account of the Underground Railroad, according to Sinha, “gets to the core of how this venture was both tremendously courageous and terribly perilous.” She believes that conductors and runaways “may be deceived at any time, in situations that they had little control over.” Cora, on the other hand, succinctly captures the liminal state of escapees.
“What a world it is.
“Was she free of bondage or still caught in its web?” “Being free had nothing to do with shackles or how much room you had,” Cora says.
The location seemed enormous despite its diminutive size.
In his words, “If you have to talk about the penalty, I’d prefer to see it off-screen.” “It’s possible that I’ve been reading this for far too long, and as a result, I’m deeply wounded by it.
view of it is that it feels a little bit superfluous to me.
In his own words, “I recognized that my job was going to be coupling the brutality with its psychological effects—not shying away from the visual representation of these things, but focusing on what it meant to the people.” “Can you tell me how they’re fighting back?
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