In reality, the underground was never static. As new routes were opened, old ones were often abandoned. When new technology was available, the underground adapted to it. For instance, as steamboats proliferated on American rivers, overland routes sometimes fell into disuse as fugitives were sent by water.
- The show and the book are set in an alternate reality, in which the Underground Railroad is a literal subterranean train system. The actual Underground Railroad was a network of people offering shelter and aid to enslaved people escaping from the South. Members included escapees as well as abolitionists who helped slaves get to the North.
Was the Underground Railroad an actual?
The escape network was neither literally underground nor a railroad. ( Actual underground railroads did not exist until 1863.) According to John Rankin, “It was so called because they who took passage on it disappeared from public view as really as if they had gone into the ground.
What is a fact about the Underground Railroad?
During the 1800s, roughly 100,000 enslaved people sought freedom on the Underground Railroad, a network of people and safe houses that formed a series of escape routes that stretched from the American South to Canada and Mexico.
What was the problem with the Underground Railroad?
A Dangerous Path to Freedom. Traveling along the Underground Railroad was a long a perilous journey for fugitive slaves to reach their freedom. Runaway slaves had to travel great distances, many times on foot, in a short amount of time.
What was the Underground Railroad for dummies?
The Underground Railroad was a term used for a network of people, homes, and hideouts that slaves in the southern United States used to escape to freedom in the Northern United States and Canada.
Were there tunnels in the Underground Railroad?
Contrary to popular belief, the Underground Railroad was not a series of underground tunnels. While some people did have secret rooms in their houses or carriages, the vast majority of the Underground Railroad involved people secretly helping people running away from slavery however they could.
How many runaway slaves were there?
Approximately 100,000 American slaves escaped to freedom.
Was the Underground Railroad a success?
Ironically the Fugitive Slave Act increased Northern opposition to slavery and helped hasten the Civil War. The Underground Railroad gave freedom to thousands of enslaved women and men and hope to tens of thousands more. In both cases the success of the Underground Railroad hastened the destruction of slavery.
How many slaves did Harriet Tubman save?
Fact: According to Tubman’s own words, and extensive documentation on her rescue missions, we know that she rescued about 70 people —family and friends—during approximately 13 trips to Maryland.
What are 3 facts about Harriet Tubman?
8 amazing facts about Harriet Tubman
- Tubman’s codename was “Moses,” and she was illiterate her entire life.
- She suffered from narcolepsy.
- Her work as “Moses” was serious business.
- She never lost a slave.
- Tubman was a Union scout during the Civil War.
- She cured dysentery.
- She was the first woman to lead a combat assault.
What made slavery illegal in all of the United States?
Passed by Congress on January 31, 1865, and ratified on December 6, 1865, the 13th amendment abolished slavery in the United States and provides that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or
How did Underground Railroad lead to civil war?
The Underground Railroad physically resisted the repressive laws that held slaves in bondage. By provoking fear and anger in the South, and prompting the enactment of harsh legislation that eroded the rights of white Americans, the Underground Railroad was a direct contributing cause of the Civil War.
How many slaves did Levi Coffin help escape?
In 1826, he moved to Indiana and over the next 20 years he assisted more than 2,000 enslaved persons escape bondage, so many that his home was known as the “Grand Central Station of the Underground Railroad.”
Underground Railroad was a network of people, both black and white, who helped escaped enslaved persons from the southern United States by providing them with refuge and assistance. It came forth as a result of the convergence of numerous separate covert initiatives. Although the exact dates of its inception are unknown, it was active from the late 18th century until the Civil War, after which its attempts to weaken the Confederacy were carried out in a less-secretive manner until the Civil War ended.
The Society of Friends (Quakers) is often regarded as the first organized group to actively assist escaped enslaved persons. In 1786, George Washington expressed dissatisfaction with Quakers for attempting to “liberate” one of his enslaved servants. Abolitionist and Quaker Isaac T. Hopper established a network in Philadelphia in the early 1800s to assist enslaved persons who were on the run from slavery. Abolitionist organisations founded by Quakers in North Carolina lay the basis for escape routes and safe havens for fugitive slaves during the same time period.
What Was the Underground Railroad?
The Underground Railroad was first mentioned in 1831, when an enslaved man named Tice Davids managed to escape from Kentucky into Ohio and his master blamed a “underground railroad” for assisting Davids in his liberation. When a fugitive slave called Jim was apprehended in 1839 in Washington, the press said that the guy confessed his plan to travel north along a “underground railroad to Boston” while under torture. The Vigilance Committees, which were established in New York in 1835 and Philadelphia in 1838 to safeguard escaped enslaved persons from bounty hunters, rapidly expanded their duties to include guiding enslaved individuals on the run.
MORE INFORMATION CAN BE FOUND AT: Harriet Tubman and her fellow fugitives used the following strategies to escape through the Underground Railroad:
How the Underground Railroad Worked
The majority of enslaved persons aided by the Underground Railroad were able to flee to neighboring states like as Kentucky, Virginia, and Maryland. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 made catching fugitive enslaved persons a lucrative industry in the deep South, and there were fewer hiding places for them as a result of the Act. The majority of fugitive enslaved people were on their own until they reached specific places farther north. The escaping enslaved people were escorted by individuals known as “conductors.” Private residences, churches, and schools were also used as hiding places throughout the war.
The personnel in charge of running them were referred to as “stationmasters.” There were several well-traveled roads that ran west through Ohio and into Indiana and Iowa.
While some traveled north via Pennsylvania and into New England, or through Detroit on their route to Canada, others chose to travel south. More information may be found at The Little-Known Underground Railroad That Ran South to Mexico.
Fugitive Slave Acts
The Fugitive Slave Acts were a major cause for many fugitive slaves to flee to Canada. This legislation, which was passed in 1793, authorized local governments to catch and extradite fugitive enslaved individuals from inside the borders of free states back to their places of origin, as well as to penalize anybody who assisted the fleeing enslaved people. Personal Liberty Laws were introduced in certain northern states to fight this, but they were overturned by the Supreme Court in 1842. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was intended to reinforce the preceding legislation, which was perceived by southern states to be insufficiently enforced at the time of passage.
The northern states were still considered a danger zone for fugitives who had managed to flee.
Some Underground Railroad operators chose to station themselves in Canada and sought to assist fugitives who were arriving to settle in the country.
Harriet Tubman was the most well-known conductor of the Underground Railroad during its heyday. When she and two of her brothers fled from a farm in Maryland in 1849, she was given the name Harriet (her married name was Tubman). She was born Araminta Ross, and she was raised as Harriet Tubman. They returned a couple of weeks later, but Tubman fled on her own again shortly after, this time making her way to the state of Pennsylvania. In following years, Tubman returned to the plantation on a number of occasions to rescue family members and other individuals.
Tubman was distraught until she had a vision of God, which led her to join the Underground Railroad and begin escorting other fugitive slaves to the Maryland state capital.
In his house in Rochester, New York, former enslaved person and celebrated author Frederick Douglasshid fugitives who were assisting 400 escapees in their journey to freedom in Canada. Reverend Jermain Loguen, a former fugitive who lived in the adjacent city of Syracuse, assisted 1,500 escapees on their journey north. The Vigilance Committee was established in Philadelphia in 1838 by Robert Purvis, an escaped enslaved person who later became a trader. Josiah Henson, a former enslaved person and railroad operator, founded the Dawn Institute in Ontario in 1842 to assist fugitive slaves who made their way to Canada in learning the necessary skills to find work.
Agent,” according to the document.
John Parker was a free Black man living in Ohio who worked as a foundry owner and who used his rowboat to ferry fugitives over the Ohio River.
William Still was a notable Philadelphia citizen who was born in New Jersey to runaway slaves parents who fled to Philadelphia as children.
Who Ran the Underground Railroad?
The vast majority of Underground Railroad operators were regular individuals, including farmers and business owners, as well as preachers and religious leaders. Some affluent individuals were active, including Gerrit Smith, a billionaire who stood for president on two separate occasions. Smith acquired a full family of enslaved people from Kentucky in 1841 and freed them from their captivity. Levi Coffin, a Quaker from North Carolina, is credited with being one of the first recorded individuals to assist escaped enslaved persons.
Coffin stated that he had discovered their hiding spots and had sought them out in order to assist them in moving forward.
Coffin eventually relocated to Indiana and then Ohio, where he continued to assist fugitive enslaved individuals no matter where he was.
Abolitionist John Brown worked as a conductor on the Underground Railroad, and it was at this time that he founded the League of Gileadites, which was dedicated to assisting fleeing enslaved individuals in their journey to Canada. Abolitionist John Brown would go on to play a variety of roles during his life. His most well-known duty was conducting an assault on Harper’s Ferry in order to raise an armed army that would march into the deep south and free enslaved people at gunpoint. Ultimately, Brown’s forces were beaten, and he was executed for treason in 1859.
- The year 1844, he formed a partnership with Vermont schoolteacher Delia Webster, and the two were jailed for assisting an escaped enslaved lady and her young daughter.
- Charles Torrey was sentenced to six years in jail in Maryland for assisting an enslaved family in their attempt to flee through Virginia.
- After being apprehended in 1844 while transporting a boatload of freed slaves from the Caribbean to the United States, Massachusetts sea captain Jonathan Walker was sentenced to prison for life.
- John Fairfield of Virginia turned down the opportunity to assist in the rescue of enslaved individuals who had been left behind by their families as they made their way north.
- He managed to elude capture twice.
End of the Line
Operation of the Underground Railroad came to an end in 1863, during the American Civil War. In actuality, its work was shifted aboveground as part of the Union’s overall campaign against the Confederate States of America. Once again, Harriet Tubman made a crucial contribution by organizing intelligence operations and serving as a commanding officer in Union Army efforts to rescue the liberated enslaved people who had been freed.
MORE INFORMATION CAN BE FOUND AT: Harriet Tubman led a daring Civil War raid after the Underground Railroad was shut down.
Bound for Canaan: The Epic Story of the Underground Railroad is a book about the Underground Railroad. Fergus Bordewich is a Scottish actor. A Biography of Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom Catherine Clinton is the first lady of the United States. Who Exactly Was in Charge of the Underground Railroad? ‘Henry Louis Gates’ is a pseudonym for Henry Louis Gates. The Underground Railroad’s History in New York is a little known fact. The Smithsonian Institution’s magazine. The Underground Railroad’s Dangerous Allure is well documented.
The True History Behind Amazon Prime’s ‘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?
In Whitehead’s envisioned South Carolina, abolitionists provide newly liberated people with education and work opportunities, at least on the surface of things. However, as Cora and Caesar quickly discover, their new companions’ conviction in white superiority is in stark contrast to their kind words. (Eugenicists and proponents of scientific racism frequently articulated opinions that were similar to those espoused by these fictitious characters in twentieth-century America.) An inebriated doctor, while conversing with a white barkeep who moonlights as an Underground Railroad conductor, discloses a plan for his African-American patients: I believe that with targeted sterilization, initially for the women, then later for both sexes, we might liberate them from their bonds without worry that they would slaughter us in our sleep.
- “Controlled sterilization, research into communicable diseases, the perfecting of new surgical techniques on the socially unfit—was it any wonder that the best medical talents in the country were flocking to South Carolina?” the doctor continues.
- The state joined the Union in 1859 and ended slavery inside its borders, but it specifically incorporated the exclusion of Black people from its borders into its state constitution, which was finally repealed in the 1920s.
- In this image from the mid-20th century, a Tuskegee patient is getting his blood taken.
- There is a ban on black people entering the state, and any who do so—including the numerous former slaves who lack the financial means to flee—are murdered in weekly public rituals.
- The plot of land, which is owned by a free Black man called John Valentine, is home to a thriving community of runaways and free Black people who appear to coexist harmoniously with white residents on the property.
- An enraged mob of white strangers destroys the farm on the eve of a final debate between the two sides, destroying it and slaughtering innocent onlookers.
- There is a region of blackness in this new condition.” Approximately 300 people were killed when white Tulsans demolished the thriving Black enclave of Greenwood in 1921.
- Public domain image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons According to an article published earlier this year by Tim Madigan for Smithsonianmagazine, a similar series of events took place in the Greenwood district of Tulsa, which was known locally as “Black Wall Street,” in June 1921.
- Madigan pointed out that the slaughter was far from an isolated incident: “In the years preceding up to 1921, white mobs murdered African Americans on hundreds of instances in cities such as Chicago, Atlanta, Duluth, Charleston, and other places,” according to the article.
In addition, Foner explains that “he’s presenting you the variety of options,” including “what freedom may actually entail, or are the constraints on freedom coming after slavery?” “It’s about. the legacy of slavery, and the way slavery has twisted the entire civilization,” says Foner of the film.
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?
History of the United States Based on a true story, this film Books Fiction about the American Civil War Racism SlaveryTelevision Videos That Should Be Watched
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.
First, a brief overview of the Underground Railroad’s history:
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.
Myth Battles Counter-Myth
Historically, the appeal of romance and fantasy in stories of the Underground Railroad can be traced back to the latter decades of the nineteenth century, when the South was winning the battle of popular memory over what the Civil War was all about — burying Lost Cause mythology deep in the national psyche and eventually propelling the racist Woodrow Wilson into the White House. Many white Northerners attempted to retain a heroic version of their history in the face of a dominant Southern interpretation of the significance of the Civil War, and they found a handy weapon in the stories of the Underground Railroad to accomplish this goal.
Immediately following the fall of Reconstruction in 1876, which was frequently attributed to purportedly uneducated or corrupt black people, the story of the struggle for independence was transformed into a tale of noble, selfless white efforts on behalf of a poor and nameless “inferior” race.
Siebert questioned practically everyone who was still alive who had any recollection of the network and even flew to Canada to interview former slaves who had traced their own pathways from the South to freedom as part of his investigation.
In the words of David Blight, Siebert “crafted a popular tale of largely white conductors assisting nameless blacks on their journey to freedom.”
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.
The Underground Railroad: Myth & Reality « Fergus Bordewich: The Imperfect Union
IN THE AMERICAN IMAGINATION, THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD enjoys a romantic position that is shared by just a few other occurrences in the country’s history. Due to its widespread recognition, the phrase is now routinely used to covert routes of transit nearly everywhere, whether we are talking about downed Allied airmen fleeing Nazi-occupied France or North Korean refugees attempting to find their way into China and Japan. The Underground Railroad, more than any other historical phenomena in the United States, has spawned legend.
The vast majority of these have no documented connection to the Underground Railroad; it is clear from the abundance of references in period literature that fugitives—when they were required to be hidden at all—were typically sent to upstairs bedrooms, basements, barns, cornfields, or nearby woods, rather than to the Underground Railroad.
(Those interested in dispelling this particular myth might read Leigh Fellner’s essay “Quilt Code,” which appeared in the March 2003 edition of Traditional Quiltworks and debunks the myth.) The Underground Railroad was about much more than just exotic hiding locations and enigmatic codes, as many people believe.
The activists of the underground appear to be both shockingly modern and oddly archaic at the same time, mixing extremely radical concepts about race and political action with extremely ancient conceptions of personal honor and holy obligation to achieve their goals.
This movement had far-reaching political and moral consequences: it was the nation’s first interracial political movement, its first movement of mass civil disobedience since the American Revolution, and it was the first American political movement to assert the principle of personal, active responsibility for others’ human rights.
- The Underground Railroad, as well as the larger abolitionist movement, served as the germinal ground for American feminism as well.
- Understanding the Underground Railroad has also been complicated by what appears to be a scarcity of statistical data on the subject.
- It is estimated that the underground railroad assisted the escape of around 100,000 fugitive slaves to havens in northern states and Canada over its sixty-odd year existence, from its inception in Philadelphia in the 1790s until the Civil War.
- However, it must be viewed in the light of a bigger picture.
- Furthermore, the vast majority of slaves who escaped were apprehended and returned to servitude.
- For the first time in history, tens of thousands of fugitives were transferred into northern areas, where they were met by vast numbers of white people who were moved by their heartbreaking stories of captivity and who began to acknowledge African Americans as humans like themselves.
- In reality, with the exception of seaports, there is scant evidence of organized underground activity in the Deep South of the United States.
- And the vast majority came from the higher reaches of those states, where slaves were more likely to have credible information about geography, northern routes, and the Underground Railroad than in the lower reaches of those states.
- True, there is a wealth of evidence of the underground in municipal archives, small-town libraries, and historical organizations throughout the northern United States and Canada.
After growing up in southern Indiana, one of my childhood friends recalled being frequently woken up at night by his mother sobbing and his father sneaking out of the house: “My curiosity, then awoken, was not completely satisfied for at least a year or more, during which time the mysterious events recurred.” My parents were staunch Baptists and active members of a neighboring church, and I was a frequent attendee at the meetings and Sunday school sessions.
In my childhood, I heard a lot about bad persons like thieves, robbers, murders, and other criminals, and I began to worry that my father was doing something bad himself.
“Father then went into detail about the entire past, warning everyone to keep it a secret.
Abolitionist journals such as Henry Bibb’s Voice of the Fugitive, which was published in Ontario, frequently covered underground news in detail, including the transit of fugitives through specific northern towns and the identities of those who assisted them in their efforts to escape.
For a time in the mid-1850s, Jermain Loguen, a former slave who rose to prominence as a significant member in the local underground in Syracuse, New York, even marketed his home as the main “station” in the city in the city’s newspapers.
As for fugitives on the run, we normally picture them on foot or riding in the backs of farm wagons.
As new routes were constructed, old ones were frequently decommissioned.
For example, when the number of steamboats on American rivers increased, overland routes became increasingly ineffective as fugitives were transported by water.
Harriet Tubman, after leading her “passengers” north from Maryland to Philadelphia, followed them by train to New York City, where she let them off at Grand Central Station and purchased tickets for them to Albany, where they would continue their journey.
Only recently have African Americans begun to reclaim their due place at the heart of the tale, both as fugitives who escaped slavery and as organizers and leaders of the Underground Railroad itself.
The story of a politically radical, interracial movement led in part by African Americans was simply too subversive to embrace in a country that was devoted to segregation and oblivious to racism.
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