In the early 1800s, Quaker abolitionist Isaac T. Hopper set up a network in Philadelphia that helped enslaved people on the run.
- Colson Whitehead’s fictional Underground Railroad is a literal train line that runs across America, built by former slaves for their own liberation. In reality, the Underground Railroad is the symbolic name for the networks across America used by fugitive slaves and their allies to facilitate escape.
When did the Underground Railroad begin and end?
The Underground Railroad was formed in the early 19th century and reached its height between 1850 and 1860.
Was Underground Railroad an actual railroad?
Nope! Despite its name, the Underground Railroad wasn’t a railroad in the way Amtrak or commuter rail is. It wasn’t even a real railroad. The Underground Railroad of history was simply a loose network of safe houses and top secret routes to states where slavery was banned.
How many slaves were saved by the Underground Railroad?
According to some estimates, between 1810 and 1850, the Underground Railroad helped to guide one hundred thousand enslaved people to freedom.
Who was the most famous conductor of the Underground Railroad?
Our Headlines and Heroes blog takes a look at Harriet Tubman as the most famous conductor on the Underground Railroad. Tubman and those she helped escape from slavery headed north to freedom, sometimes across the border to 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 did Harriet Tubman use the Underground Railroad?
Harriet Tubman was an escaped enslaved woman who became a “ conductor ” on the Underground Railroad, leading enslaved people to freedom before the Civil War, all while carrying a bounty on her head.
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 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
What state ended slavery first?
In 1780, Pennsylvania became the first state to abolish slavery when it adopted a statute that provided for the freedom of every slave born after its enactment (once that individual reached the age of majority). Massachusetts was the first to abolish slavery outright, doing so by judicial decree in 1783.
What did slaves do after they escaped?
Most large plantations in the South, however, had slaves who escaped. Slaves’ resistance to captivity took many forms, such as performing careless work, destroying property, or faking illness. Many enslaved persons who were able chose escape, however. Some tried to rejoin family members living on a nearby properties.
How old would Harriet Tubman be today?
Harriet Tubman’s exact age would be 201 years 10 months 28 days old if alive. Total 73,747 days. Harriet Tubman was a social life and political activist known for her difficult life and plenty of work directed on promoting the ideas of slavery abolishment.
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
William Still is a well-known author and poet. Photograph courtesy of the Hulton Archive/Getty Images Many runaways traveled from Wilmington, the final Underground Railroad station in the slave state of Delaware, to the office of William Still in adjacent Philadelphia, which was the last stop on their journey. The Vigilance Committee of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, which provided food and clothing, coordinated escapes, raised funds, and otherwise served as a one-stop social services shop for hundreds of fugitive slaves each year, was chaired by Still, who was a free-born African American.
Still ultimately produced a book in which he chronicled the personal histories of his guests, which offered valuable insight into the operation of the Underground Railroad as a whole.
His assistance to Osborne Anderson, the only African-American member of John Brown’s company to survive the Harpers Ferry raid, was another occasion when he was called upon.
6. Levi Coffin
Charles T. Webber’s painting The Underground Railroad depicts fleeing slaves Levi Coffin, his wife Catherine, and Hannah Haydock providing assistance to the group of fugitive slaves. Getty Images/Bettina Archive/Getty Images Levi Coffin, often known as the “president of the Underground Railroad,” is said to have been an abolitionist when he was seven years old after witnessing a column of chained slaves people being taken to an auction house. Following a humble beginning delivering food to fugitives holed up on his family’s North Carolina plantation, he rose through the ranks to become a successful trader and prolific “stationmaster,” first in Newport (now Fountain City), Indiana, and subsequently in Cincinnati, Kentucky.
In addition to hosting anti-slavery lectures and abolitionist sewing club meetings, Coffin, like his fellow Quaker Thomas Garrett, stood steadfast when hauled before a court of law.
His writings state that “the dictates of humanity came in direct conflict with the law of the land,” and that “we rejected the law.”
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
Mr. Thaddeus Stevens is an American lawyer and senator. Bettmann Archive courtesy of Getty Images; Matthew Brady/Bettmann Archive Thaddeus Stevens, a representative from Pennsylvania, was outspoken in his opposition to slavery. The 14th and 15th amendments, which guaranteed African-American citizens equal protection under the law and the right to vote, respectively, were among his many accomplishments, and he also advocated for a radical reconstruction of the South, which included the redistribution of land from white plantation owners to former enslaved people.
Despite this, it wasn’t until 2002 that his Underground Railroad activities were brought to light, when archeologists uncovered a hidden hiding hole in the courtyard of his Lancaster house.
Seward, also served as Underground Railroad “stationmasters” during the era.
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.
The Underground Railroad
|The Underground Railroad, a vast network of people who helped fugitive slaves escape to the North and to Canada, was not run by any single organization or person. Rather, it consisted of many individuals – many whites but predominently black – who knew only of the local efforts to aid fugitives and not of the overall operation. Still, it effectively moved hundreds of slaves northward each year – according to one estimate,the South lost 100,000 slaves between 1810 and 1850. An organized system to assist runaway slaves seems to have begun towards the end of the 18th century. In 1786 George Washington complained about how one of his runaway slaves was helped by a “society of Quakers, formed for such purposes.” The system grew, and around 1831 it was dubbed “The Underground Railroad,” after the then emerging steam railroads. The system even used terms used in railroading: the homes and businesses where fugitives would rest and eat were called “stations” and “depots” and were run by “stationmasters,” those who contributed money or goods were “stockholders,” and the “conductor” was responsible for moving fugitives from one station to the next.For the slave, running away to the North was anything but easy. The first step was to escape from the slaveholder. For many slaves, this meant relying on his or her own resources. Sometimes a “conductor,” posing as a slave, would enter a plantation and then guide the runaways northward. The fugitives would move at night. They would generally travel between 10 and 20 miles to the next station, where they would rest and eat, hiding in barns and other out-of-the-way places. While they waited, a message would be sent to the next station to alert its stationmaster.The fugitives would also travel by train and boat – conveyances that sometimes had to be paid for. Money was also needed to improve the appearance of the runaways – a black man, woman, or child in tattered clothes would invariably attract suspicious eyes. This money was donated by individuals and also raised by various groups, including vigilance committees.Vigilance committees sprang up in the larger towns and cities of the North, most prominently in New York, Philadelphia, and Boston. In addition to soliciting money, the organizations provided food, lodging and money, and helped the fugitives settle into a community by helping them find jobs and providing letters of recommendation.The Underground Railroad had many notable participants, including John Fairfield in Ohio, the son of a slaveholding family, who made many daring rescues, Levi Coffin, a Quaker who assisted more than 3,000 slaves, and Harriet Tubman, who made 19 trips into the South and escorted over 300 slaves to freedom.|
The Secret History of the Underground Railroad
Diseases and Peculiarities of the Negro Race was the title of a series published by De Bow’s Review, a leading Southern periodical, a decade before the Civil War. The series was deemed necessary by the editors because it had “direct and practical bearing” on 3 million people whose worth as property totaled approximately $2 billion. When it comes to African Americans’ supposed laziness (“deficiency of red blood in the pulmonary and arterial systems”), love of dancing (“profuse distribution of nervous matter to the stomach, liver, and genital organs”), and extreme aversion to being whipped (“skin.
- However, it was Cartwright’s discovery of a previously undiscovered medical illness, which he coined “Drapetomania, or the sickness that causes Negroes to flee,” that grabbed the most attention from readers.
- Despite the fact that only a few thousand individuals, at most, fled slavery each year—nearly all of them from states bordering the free North—their migration was seen by many Southern whites as a portent of a greater calamity.
- How long do you think it will take until the entire cloth begins to unravel?
- Rather, it was intentionally supported and helped by a well-organized network that was both large and diabolical in scope.
- The word “Underground Railroad” brings up pictures of trapdoors, flickering lamps, and moonlit routes through the woods in the minds of most people today, just as it did in the minds of most Americans in the 1840s and 1850s.
- At least until recently, scholars paid relatively little attention to the story, which is remarkable considering how prominent it is in the national consciousness.
- The Underground Railroad was widely believed to be a statewide conspiracy with “conductors,” “agents,” and “depots,” but was it really a fiction of popular imagination conjured up from a succession of isolated, unconnected escapes?
- Which historians you trust in will determine the solutions.
One historian (white) questioned surviving abolitionists (most of whom were also white) a decade after the Civil War and documented a “great and complicated network” of agents, 3,211 of whom he identified by name, as well as a “great and intricate network” of agents (nearly all of them white).
- “I escaped without the assistance.
- “I have freed myself in the manner of a man.” In many cases, the Underground Railroad was not concealed at all.
- The journal of a white New Yorker who assisted hundreds of runaway slaves in the 1850s was found by an undergraduate student in Foner’s department at Columbia University while working on her final thesis some years ago, and this discovery served as the inspiration for his current book.
- One of the book’s most surprising revelations is that, according to the book’s subtitle, the Underground Railroad was not always secret at all.
- The New York State Vigilance Committee, established in 1850, the year of the infamous Fugitive Slave Act, officially declared its objective to “welcome, with open arms, the panting fugitive.” Local newspapers published stories about Jermain W.
Bazaars with the slogan “Buy for the sake of the slave” provided donated luxury items and handcrafted knickknacks just before the winter holidays, and bake sales in support of the Underground Railroad, no matter how unlikely it may seem, became popular fund-raisers in Northern towns and cities.
- Political leaders, especially those who had taken vows to protect the Constitution — including the section ordering the return of runaways to their proper masters — blatantly failed to carry out their obligations.
- Judge William Jay, a son of the first chief justice of the United States Supreme Court, made the decision to disregard fugitive slave laws and contributed money to aid runaway slaves who managed to flee.
- One overlooked historical irony is that, up until the eve of Southern secession in 1860, states’ rights were cited as frequently by Northern abolitionists as they were by Southern slaveholders, a fact that is worth noting.
- It was not recognized for its abolitionist passion, in contrast to places like as Boston and Philadelphia, which had deep-rooted reformer traditions—as well as communities in upstate New York such as Buffalo and Syracuse.
Even before the city’s final bondsmen were released, in 1827, its economy had become deeply intertwined with that of the South, as evidenced by a gloating editorial in the De Bow newspaper, published shortly before the Civil War, claiming the city was “nearly as reliant on Southern slavery as Charleston.” New York banks lent money to plantation owners to acquire slaves, while New York merchants made their fortunes off the sale of slave-grown cotton and sugar.
- Besides properly recapturing escapees, slave catchers prowled the streets of Manhattan, and they frequently illegally kidnapped free blacks—particularly children—in order to sell them into Southern bondage.
- The story begins in 1846, when a man called George Kirk slipped away aboard a ship sailing from Savannah to New York, only to be discovered by the captain and shackled while awaiting return to his owner.
- The successful fugitive was escorted out of court by a phalanx of local African Americans who were on the lookout for him.
- In this case, the same court found other legal grounds on which to free Kirk, who rolled out triumphantly in a carriage and made his way to the safety of Boston in short order this time.
- In addition to being descended from prominent Puritans, Sydney Howard Gay married a wealthy (and radical) Quaker heiress.
- Co-conspirator Louis Napoleon, who is thought to be the freeborn son of a Jewish New Yorker and an African American slave, was employed as an office porter in Gay’s office.
- Gay was the one who, between 1855 and 1856, maintained the “Record of Fugitives,” which the undergraduate discovered in the Columbia University archives and which chronicled more than 200 escapes.
One first-person narrative starts, “I ate one meal a day for eight years.” “It has been sold three times, and it is expected to be sold a fourth time.
Undoubtedly, a countrywide network existed, with its actions sometimes shrouded in secrecy.
Its routes and timetables were continually changing as well.
As with Gay and Napoleon’s collaboration, its operations frequently brought together people from all walks of life, including the affluent and the poor, black and white.
Among others who decamped to Savannah were a light-skinned guy who set himself up in a first-class hotel, went around town in a magnificent new suit of clothes, and insouciantly purchased a steamship ticket to New York from Savannah.
At the height of the Civil War, the number of such fugitives was still a small proportion of the overall population.
It not only played a role in precipitating the political crisis of the 1850s, but it also galvanized millions of sympathetic white Northerners to join a noble fight against Southern slaveholders, whether they had personally assisted fugitive slaves, shopped at abolitionist bake sales, or simply enjoyed reading about slave escapes in books and newspapers.
- More than anything else, it trained millions of enslaved Americans to gain their freedom at a moment’s notice if necessary.
- Within a few months, a large number of Union soldiers and sailors successfully transformed themselves into Underground Railroad operatives in the heart of the South, sheltering fugitives who rushed in large numbers to the Yankees’ encampments to escape capture.
- Cartwright’s most horrific nightmares.
- On one of the Union’s railway lines, an abolitionist discovered that the volume of wartime traffic was at an all-time high—except on one of them.
- The number of solo travelers is quite limited.” And it’s possible that New Yorkers were surprised to open their eyes in early 1864.
The accompanying essay, on the other hand, soon put their worries at ease. It proposed a plan to construct Manhattan’s first subway line, which would travel northward up Broadway from the Battery to Central Park. It was never built.
The Underground Railroad [ushistory.org]
The National Park Service (NPS) Through the Underground Railroad, Lewis Hayden was able to elude enslavement and later found work as a “conductor” from his home in Massachusetts. Speakers and organizers are required for any cause. Any mass movement requires the presence of visionary men and women. However, simply spreading knowledge and mobilizing people is not enough. It takes people who take action to bring about revolutionary change – individuals who chip away at the things that stand in the way, little by little, until they are victorious.
- Instead of sitting around and waiting for laws to change or slavery to come crashing down around them, railroad advocates assisted individual fleeing slaves in finding the light of freedom.
- Slaves were relocated from one “station” to another by abolitionists during the Civil War.
- In order to escape being apprehended, whites would frequently pose as the fugitives’ masters.
- In one particularly dramatic instance, Henry “Box” Brown arranged for a buddy to lock him up in a wooden box with only a few cookies and a bottle of water for company.
- This map of the eastern United States depicts some of the paths that slaves took on their way to freedom.
- The majority of the time, slaves traveled northward on their own, searching for the signal that indicated the location of the next safe haven.
- The railroad employed almost 3,200 individuals between the years 1830 and the conclusion of the Civil War, according to historical records.
Harriet Tubman was perhaps the most notable “conductor” of the Underground Railroad during her lifetime.
Tubman traveled into slave territory on a total of 19 distinct occasions throughout the 1850s.
Any slave who had second thoughts, she threatened to kill with the gun she kept on her hip at the risk of his life.
When the Civil War broke out, she put her railroad experience to use as a spy for the Union, which she did successfully for the Union.
This was even worse than their distaste of Abolitionist speech and literature, which was already bad enough.
According to them, this was a straightforward instance of stolen goods. Once again, a brick was laid in the building of Southern secession when Northern cities rallied with liberated slaves and refused to compensate them for their losses.
The Underground Railroad
At the time of slavery, the Underground Railroad was a network of routes, locations, and individuals that assisted enslaved persons in the American South in their attempts to flee to freedom in the northern states. Subjects History of the United States, Social StudiesImage
Home of Levi Coffin
Levi Coffin’s residence in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he lived as an American Quaker and abolitionist. This was a station on the Underground Railroad, a network of routes, locations, and individuals that assisted enslaved persons in escaping to the North during the Civil War. Cincinnati Museum Center provided the photography. “> During the age of slavery, the Underground Railroad was a network of routes, locations, and individuals that assisted enslaved persons in the American South in escaping to the North, according to the Underground Railroad Museum.
Although it was not a real railroad, it fulfilled the same function as one: it carried passengers across large distances.
The people who worked for the Underground Railroad were driven by a passion for justice and a desire to see slavery abolished—a drive that was so strong that they risked their lives and jeopardized their own freedom in order to assist enslaved people in escaping from bondage and staying safe while traveling the Underground Railroad.
- As the network expanded, the railroad metaphor became more prevalent.
- In recent years, academic research has revealed that the vast majority of persons who engaged in the Underground Railroad did it on their own, rather than as part of a larger organization.
- According to historical tales of the railroad, conductors frequently pretended to be enslaved persons in order to smuggle runaways out of plantation prisons and train stations.
- Often, the conductors and passengers traveled 16–19 kilometers (10–20 miles) between each safehouse stop, which was a long distance in this day and age.
- Patrols on the lookout for enslaved persons were usually on their tails, chasing them down.
- Historians who study the railroad, on the other hand, find it difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction.
- Eric Foner is one of the historians that belongs to this group.
- Despite this, the Underground Railroad was at the center of the abolitionist struggle during the nineteenth century.
- Levi Coffin’s residence in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he lived as an American Quaker and abolitionist.
- Cincinnati Museum Center provided the photography.
- Person who is owned by another person or group of people is referred to as an enslaved person.
Slavery is a noun that refers to the act of owning another human being or being owned by another human being (also known as servitude). Abolitionists utilized this nounsystem between 1800 and 1865 to aid enslaved African Americans in their attempts to flee to free states.
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Gina Borgia is a member of the National Geographic Society. Jeanna Sullivan is a member of the National Geographic Society.
According to National Geographic Society’s Sarah Appleton, Margot Willis is a National Geographic Society photographer.
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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?
In Whitehead’s envisioned South Carolina, abolitionists provide newly liberated individuals with education and work opportunities, at least on the surface of the page. However, as Cora and Caesar quickly discover, their new companions’ conviction in racial superiority is in stark contrast to the words they had said with such sweetness. The opinions conveyed by these fictional characters are reminiscent of those voiced by eugenicists and proponents of scientific racism in twentieth-century America.
- “Controlled sterilization, research into communicable diseases, the perfecting of new surgical techniques on the socially unfit—was it any surprise that the best medical talent in the country was flocking to South Carolina?” the doctor continues.
- The state joined the Union in 1859 and ended slavery inside its boundaries, but it also clearly inscribed the exclusion of Black people on its state constitution, which was only repealed in the 1920s after decades of resistance.
- In this image from the mid-20th century, a Tuskegee patient is shown having his blood taken.
- In the novel The Underground Railroad, white immigrants undertake the jobs previously performed by enslaved people in North Carolina, working off the debts incurred by their “journey, tools, and accommodation” as indentured slaves before claiming their rightful position in American culture.
According to the railroad conductor who conceals Cora in his attic, the “Freedom Trail,” a path paved with the remains of slain Black people, stretches “as far as there are bodies to feed it.” After narrowly evading the slave catcher Ridgeway at the conclusion of the tale, Cora decides to settle on a farm in Indiana.
Tensions soon rise to a boiling point, with residents disagreeing on whether they should continue to harbor fugitives at great risk to the rest of the community, or whether they should “put an end to relations with the railroad, the endless stream of needy, and ensure the longevity of the farm,” as one resident puts it.
According to Whitehead’s book, “Cora had grown to adore the improbable riches of the Valentine farm to such an extent that she’d forgotten how impossible they were.” It was too vast and too successful for the farm and the nearby ones run by colored interests.” An island of darkness in the midst of a newly created state.” In 1921, white Tulsans demolished the rich Black enclave of Greenwood, murdering over 300 individuals, according to historical estimates.
Attack on an Indiana farm is depicted in detail in the novel The Underground Railroad.
When a similar series of events transpired in the Greenwood area of Tulsa in June 1921 (also known as “Black Wall Street,” as described by Tim Madigan for Smithsonianmagazine earlier this year), it was a cause for celebration.
Moreover, as Madigan pointed out, the slaughter was not an isolated incident: The New York Times reports that “in the years preceding up to 1921, white mobs murdered African Americans on hundreds of instances in cities including Chicago, Atlanta, Duluth, Charleston, and other places.” As Sinha points out, Whitehead’s inclusion of incidents that occurred after the abolition of slavery serves to highlight the institution’s “pernicious and far-reaching tendrils.” In addition, Foner explains that “he’s showing you the variety of options,” including “what freedom may actually mean, or are the constraints on freedom coming after slavery.” “It’s about.
the legacy of slavery, and the way slavery has perverted the entire civilization,” says Foner of the film.