The Underground Railroad History
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Overview, Network Underground Railroad Maps Harriet Tubman Conductors Names List Civil War Photo
The Underground Railroad was an informal network of secret
routes and safe houses used by 19th century Black slaves in the United States to escape to free states
and Canada with the aid of abolitionists who were sympathetic to their cause. Other routes led to Mexico
or overseas. The Underground Railroad was at its height between 1810 and 1850, with more than 30,000* people escaping enslavement
(mainly to Canada) via the network.
The Underground Railroad refers to the effort--sometimes
spontaneous, sometimes highly organized--to assist persons held in bondage in North
America to escape from slavery. Historic places along the Underground Railroad are testament of African American capabilities. The network
provided an opportunity for sympathetic white Americans to play a role in resisting slavery, and brought together, however
uneasily at times, men and women of both races to begin to set aside assumptions about the other race and to work together
on issues of mutual concern. At the most dramatic level, the Underground Railroad provided stories of guided escapes from
the South, rescues of arrested fugitives in the North, complex communication systems, and individual acts of bravery and suffering
in the quest for freedom for all.
|Underground Railroad Map
|(Underground Railroad Map)
* Estimates vary. One estimate places the number at 100,000
Source: National Park Service
Reading: The Underground Railroad: Authentic Narratives and First-Hand Accounts. Description: A "conductor" based in Philadelphia,
Still (1821–1902) helped guide fugitive slaves to safety in the years before the Civil War. He also created this unforgettable
history, a collection of carefully preserved letters, newspaper articles, and firsthand accounts about refugees' hardships,
narrow escapes, and deadly struggles. Over 50 illustrations. "Highly recommended."
Reading: The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom: A Comprehensive History (Dover African-American
Books). Description: This pioneering work was the first documented survey of a system that helped fugitive
slaves escape from areas in the antebellum South to regions as far north as Canada.
Comprising fifty years of research, the text includes interviews and excerpts from diaries, letters, biographies, memoirs,
speeches, and other firsthand accounts.
Reading: Passages to Freedom: The Underground Railroad in History and Memory. From Publishers Weekly: Myth and metaphor, the Underground Railroad was also real in the lives of escaping slaves, in the activities
(legal and illegal) of black and white people, free and slave, who aided and abetted them and in the structures in which they
found refuge. Bountifully illustrated with 78 color and 174 black-and-white photos and other images, this collection also
comprises highly, readable essays by 15 distinguished historians. The first section, "Slavery and Abolition," lays a historical
foundation with cogent accounts of slavery in the colonial years and in the 19th century and of the antislavery movement.
Slave Act of 1850, the Civil War, William Still and Harriet Tubman are all carefully treated. Short-term stay escapes and
long-term fugitive communities within slave territory, escape by water, escape into Northern free black communities, escape
to South Florida and escape to Western Canada are all freshly covered, as are "current uses of the Underground Railroad in
modern thought, tourism, and public history." Eddie S. Glaude Jr. discusses the African-American appropriation of the Exodus
story, with the U.S.
being Egypt rather than the Promised Land.
…A coherently arranged collection with two thought-provoking essays exploring the role of history and memory and probing
the current attention to the Underground Railroad that "says much about who we are as well as who we say we want to be."
Reading: Bound for Canaan: The Epic Story of the Underground Railroad, America's First Civil Rights Movement. From Publishers Weekly:
Though the Underground Railroad is one of the touchstones of American collective memory, there's been no comprehensive, accessible
history of the secret movement that delivered more than 100,000 runaway slaves to freedom in the Northern states and Canada. Journalist Bordewich (Killing the White Man's Indian)
fills this gap with a clear, utterly compelling survey of the Railroad from its earliest days in Revolution-era America through the Civil
War and the extension of the vote to African Americans in 1870. Using an impressive array of archival and contemporary sources
(letters, autobiographies, tax records and slave narratives, as well as new scholarship), Bordewich reveals the Railroad to
be much more complicated--and much more remarkable--than is usually understood. Continued below…
As a progressive
movement that integrated people across races and was underwritten by secular political theories but carried out by fervently
religious citizens in the midst of a national spiritual awakening, the clandestine network was among the most fascinatingly
diverse groups ever to unite behind a common American cause. What makes Bordewich's work transcend the confines of detached
social history is his emphasis on the real lives and stories of the Railroad's participants. Religious extremists, left-wing
radicals and virulent racists all emerge as fully realized characters, flawed but determined people doing what they believed
was right, and every chapter has at least one moment--a detail, a vignette, a description--that will transport readers to
the world Bordewich describes. The men and women of this remarkable account will remain with readers for a long time to come.
Viewing: Underground Railroad (History Channel) (150 minutes). Description:
The Underground Railroad, "the first civil rights movement," was no mere act of civil disobedience. The secret network of
guides, pilots, and safe-house keepers (the Railroad's "conductors") was built by runaway slaves who, over the decades, communicated
their experiences through songs and secret gestures, and were supported by abolitionists (many of them former slaves) who
risked their own freedom to help free the enslaved. The "passengers" risked their lives. Continued below…
A wealth of
photos, documents, and commentary by modern historians provides the broad lines of history, but it comes alive in the individual
stories of conductors and passengers, among them abolitionist and historian William Still, called the "Father of the Underground
Railroad," and Henry "Box" Brown, who mailed himself to freedom in a cargo crate. They (and many others) take their place beside Harriet Tubman ("the Moses of her people") and Frederick
Douglass as courageous heroes in America's first integrated social movement. The DVD also features
the Biography episode on Frederick Douglass, the complete text of the Emancipation Proclamation, a biographical essay on Harriet
Tubman, and other historical background pieces.
Viewing: Race to Freedom: The Story of the Underground Railroad. Description: Race to Freedom is worth watching as an introduction to the Underground
Railroad. Some of the characters intertwined in the story are actual historical figures who played roles in the Underground
Railroad. … I used this movie in my U.S. History class as we were discussing Slavery, the Underground Railroad and the
events leading up to the Civil War. It gives a great depiction of what slaves endured and their struggles to evade that yoke
called “slavery.” …Very interesting and engaging for students. Highly Recommended.