Skip

Underground Railroad
June 15, 2008 7:36 AM   Subscribe

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 resolve. One of those places is Lycoming County, PA. Freedom means a hard, dangerous trek. Do you try it?
posted by netbros (26 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Boston African American National Historic Site is comprised of the largest area of pre-Civil War black owned structures in the U.S. It has roughly two dozen sites on the north face of Beacon Hill.

Black Heritage Trail. Online tour via the Museum of African American History (Boston & Nantucket).
posted by ericb at 7:56 AM on June 15, 2008


Lest we never forget Harriet Tubman, "your guide" in the National Geographic trek. Harriet, The Moses of Her People by Sarah H. Bradford.

Also -- Scholastic has an Underground Railway journey.
posted by ericb at 8:02 AM on June 15, 2008


*Lest we forget*
posted by ericb at 8:04 AM on June 15, 2008




The government of Canada talks about the underground railroad.
posted by joannemerriam at 8:11 AM on June 15, 2008


Thanks much for all the enhancing links ericb (and joanne).
posted by netbros at 8:15 AM on June 15, 2008


So much of what you believe about the Underground Railroad is bogus. The coded quilts, as we all know now, are a hoax. In reality, the Underground Railroad, such as it was, was a small, loosely organized effort that may have helped only a tiny fraction of escaped slaves (of course, if you were one of those slaves, it was very important). Why do we exaggerate this episode in our slave history, and ignore the fact that the overwhelming majority of 19th century Americans were okay with slavery -- or, if they weren't okay with slavery, they at least hated abolitionists enough to not actively oppose slavery? And that most slaves (understandably) never tried to escape? Where I live, in the North, any building more than 120 years old is pointed out as "a stop on the Underground Railroad." It's to our credit that today, America's collective consciousness gags at the truth about its general complicity in the slave system, and seeks shelter in myths about the Underground Railroad. But we shouldn't ignore the truth.
posted by Faze at 8:19 AM on June 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


The coded quilts, as we all know now, are a hoax.

I think you meant to link to this previous MeFi thread: Code Breaking.
posted by ericb at 8:22 AM on June 15, 2008


But we shouldn't ignore the truth.

I think the really important part of the story that always seems to get glossed over in high school history class is that the slaves were only truly free once they reached Canada. Just getting to the North didn't mean shit when you could be (legally) grabbed off the streets by a bounty hunter and taken back in shackles to your master. No, if you wanted to taste real freedom, you had to get to the Great White North.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:43 AM on June 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I can't help but notice the post refers "persons held in bondage in North America", heh.

They weren't swimming across the oceans to get away from slavery.
posted by stinkycheese at 9:03 AM on June 15, 2008


Where I live, in the North, any building more than 120 years old is pointed out as "a stop on the Underground Railroad."

When I was around 7 years old my family looked at an 18th century house in Western Massachusetts with an honest-to-gosh secret room behind a bookcase. It was completely unfinished with a rough dirt floor and old crumbling brick walls. The owners said the house was a stop on the Underground Railroad because of this hiding place.

The house was built in the late 1700s, though, so I'm not sure exactly what the purpose of the room was for the 60 or so years before the Underground Railroad was at its height. Frankly, the historical significance, however authentic, was lost on me at the time in favor of the sheer awesomeness of an actual secret room with an actual secret passageway.

Anyway, we didn't buy the house.
posted by Spatch at 9:43 AM on June 15, 2008


Howe can we discuss this subject without bringing up the heroic actions of Harriet Tubman and all she did for not only the slaves' freedom but for the advancement of all women!
posted by femmme at 10:23 AM on June 15, 2008


No, if you wanted to taste real freedom, you had to get to the Great White North.

Yeah, I can't help but notice the post refers "persons held in bondage in North America", heh.

Slavery in Canada
posted by zarah at 10:45 AM on June 15, 2008


Thanks Faze. If every place that claims to be a stop on the underground railroad actually was used as one, there wouldn't have been a slave left in the South.

But that hoax link is incorrect.
posted by beagle at 10:58 AM on June 15, 2008


zarah: Not sure what your motive was there but that's hardly a gotcha.

Yes, Canada's French and English colonies had slavery prior to Confederation. I knew that, I assume Civil_Disobedient did too.

This thread is about The Underground Railroad. Your own link makes clear that Canada was what these slaves were escaping to.
posted by stinkycheese at 12:12 PM on June 15, 2008


Faze, you answer your own questions here:

>Why do we exaggerate this episode in our slave history. . . It's to our credit that today, America's collective consciousness gags at the truth. . . and seeks shelter in myths.

Where I live, in the North, any building more than 120 years old is pointed out as "a stop on the Underground Railroad."


Ohio in general and NEO in particular does seem awash in such sites. But then, the state played a significant role in the enterprise, such as it was, if only for geographical reasons.

People need myths, so it seems.

It used to be said of nearly every old house in New England that "George Washington Slept Here". (In fact, my sister's house in Maine is famous as the only old house in town where, apparently, Washington never slept! And I now have the bed he didn't sleep in. )

So now, every old house in Ohio is "An Historic Stop On The Underground Railroad", where modern whites can fantasize a positive role for themselves and their ancestors on the right side of black history.

This is a great leap forward.
-
posted by Herodios at 12:28 PM on June 15, 2008


Why do we exaggerate this episode in our slave history, and ignore the fact that the overwhelming majority of 19th century Americans were okay with slavery -- or, if they weren't okay with slavery, they at least hated abolitionists enough to not actively oppose slavery?

Overwhelming majority?

According to the 1860 U.S. census, nearly four million slaves were held in a total population of just over 12 million in the 15 states in which slavery was legal.[5] Of all 1,515,605 families in the 15 slave states, 393,967 held slaves (roughly one in four),[6] amounting to 8% of all American families.[7] Most households, however, had only a few slaves. The majority of slaves was held by planters, defined by historians as those who held 20 or more slaves.[8] The planters achieved wealth and social and political power. Ninety-five percent of black people lived in the South, comprising one-third of the population there, as opposed to 2% of the population of the North.

Moreover at the time of the Civil War, 19 of the United States were free states.

This episode in our slave histoty is exaggerated, if you will, because it illiustrates that there was active, grass roots support of the official anti-slavery policies of the north.
posted by three blind mice at 12:54 PM on June 15, 2008






three blind mice -- thanks for your response. But I'm not really speaking of slave ownership. Just more or less indifferent approval of slavery. Just like most Americans today are okay with the Iraq war. They may think the war at present is being poorly prosecuted, but the general idea of killing guys with beards and turbans is pretty much alright with most US folks. Same as in the 19th century, where most people North and South didn't necessarily oppose slavery, they just felt slave owners should be more kind.
posted by Faze at 2:16 PM on June 15, 2008


Oh, yeah, forgot about Don't Know Much About History and related titles by Kenneth C. Davis
posted by Herodios at 2:18 PM on June 15, 2008


Not sure what your motive was there but that's hardly a gotcha

I wasn't trying to gotcha anyone, defensivecheese, just adding a link that was related to comments made. Altho' after following links from that wiki page it seems many of the slaves were pretty disappointed with us, coming up against serious racism (denied employment etc), and seeing that folks still had slaves (indentured servants is a bs term). This probably contributed to so many of them going back over the border the first moment it was viable to do so.
posted by zarah at 5:29 PM on June 15, 2008


Sorry if I was defensive, and no offense meant.
posted by stinkycheese at 6:29 PM on June 15, 2008


Loving Canada and everything, but it's interesting that Halifax, which absorbed the greatest number of black refugees, also instituted rigid racial segregation policies and was and still is the only Canadian city with anything approaching black ghettoes. Montreal and Toronto have "black" enclaves comprising West Indian and African people, but in Halifax, segregation was forced.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 10:08 AM on June 16, 2008


Where I live, in the North, any building more than 120 years old is pointed out as "a stop on the Underground Railroad."

Good friends of mine in Sewickley, PA (outside Pittsburgh, along the Ohio River) live in a ~130 year old house about a hundred yards up the hill from the train tracks next to the river. There are three steps on their back hall stairway that lift up to form a hidden door / descending stairwell into a closet behind the back wall of their basement. On the back wall of that small room, a now walled-off tunnel that once extended to the embankment next to the railroad. There's a small gully in the embankment there where we suspect the tunnel caved in at some point.

Its a shame everyone where you lives thinks their house has such history as this one.
posted by allkindsoftime at 4:45 PM on June 16, 2008


Worse than that, ethnomethodologist, Halifax took away valuable harbourside land from one of our black ghetto-ized communities and forcibly moved them to some useless land on the outskirts of the city. Google Africville for details. Halifax has since apologized, I think, but we haven't offered reclamation, which we clearly should. That was only about 50 years ago.

I'm sure Canada rocked compared to being a slave, but it's not like we don't have our own serious issues with racism.
posted by joannemerriam at 6:05 PM on June 16, 2008


« Older Let's be careful out there....   |   Zaida Ben-Yusef, New York Portrait Photographer Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post