First off … the “underground“ railroad was usually by foot or horseback. This operation was underground in the sense that it operated covertly to help fugitive slaves escape from the South to various points in the Northern United States and Canada.
The “railroad” part comes from the terminology used, such as “station” for a hiding place or “station master” for the person who owned the house in which escaping slaves were hidden.
The railroad operated from about 1840 to 1860. Credible estimates show the number of slaves helped by this operation was never more than 1,000 yearly at its peak during the years before the American Civil War.
Frederick Douglass, a noted black abolitionist valued the underground railroad, but felt the rather public nature of it actually made slave owners more alert, which in turn hampered the ability of slaves to escape.
Contrary to the image of slaves crossing an invisible state line and becoming free, many slaves were forcibly returned to servitude through the efforts of federal law enforcement officials and a thriving group of paid slave hunters, who could pursue escaped slaves far into the North. The courts provided some support for both freedom and return to slavery.
The Underground Railroad seized the imagination of the country, helping to educate those far removed from the slave-owning South and to reinforce the nature of this condition, ultimately contributing to the removal of legal support for slavery.
Taking a few minutes to remember and learn about this American experience is proper and fitting today.
Curiosity piqued? Go to “The Underground Railroad” sponsored by the National Geographic Society‘s education arm for multi-media educational activities. You can also learn more about the Underground Railroad by visiting PBS. Prepare to be enlightened …
Now, I have a question …
What do we have today that compares to this?
What experience is happening now to help those in significant need?
What experience is highlighting the evils of a legally-sanctioned practice?
Who is involved in helping and highlighting this?
Who is involved in resisting this?
Bonus Question: Which side of history are you on?
Just wondering about historic actions occurring as we go about our daily life in the Heartland ….
Wikipedia source for information and image titled “A Ride For Liberty – Fugitive Slaves” by Johnson Eastman circa 1862
- Underground Railroad stop planned for Wyoming museum (mlive.com)
- Scholastic Presents an Interactive Underground Railroad Lesson (freetech4teachers.com)
- Combating Modern Slavery 150 Years After the Emancipation Proclamation (larahentz.wordpress.com)
- From the FreedomWorks Files: Runaway Slave (crooksandliars.com)
- When is a railroad not a railroad? (tkmorin.wordpress.com)