In the late 18th century up until the 1860s, the life of slaves in the South of the USA was unbearable. Many could no longer suffer discrimination and abuse and tried to escape their owners. The Underground Railroad was the network of people and shelters that allowed these fugitives to reach the northern states and Canada where they were out of reach for slave-hunters (Pettit, 2015). The network received its name because all activities were kept in secret, often at night, and because the routes and stopping places were called lines and stations respectively. Due to the bravery and commitment of local activists, mostly free black people, thousands of slaves managed to escape to the free lands using the Underground Railroad (Foner, 2015). This system is now perceived as a symbol of slaves’ unbroke spirit and the overwhelming desire to be free.
Using the Underground Railway was no easy task for a fugitive. One of the most difficult challenges was to escape the master. Everything depended on slaves’ resources, the setting, and luck. Sometimes, the so-called conductors, posing as slaves, come to the place where slaves worked or lived and helped them to leave unnoticed. They also guided the fugitives to help them find the stations where they received food and shelter. The slaves usually walked 10-20 miles to the next station, often hiding in bars and distanced places to stay out of sight. While they hid at the station, conductors sent a message to the next stopping place to make sure that local people would be ready to help. People from the Underground Railroad also donated money to help the fugitives to change their appearance or find a job once they get to their destination.
Some participants of the Underground Railroad were particularly successful in helping the fugitives. For example, Harriet Tubman was believed to return to the South 19 times and helped more than 300 slaves. John Fairfield, who was born in the rich slave-holding family, condemned his parents’ lifestyle and actively involved in the abolitionist movement through the Underground Railroad movement (Snodgrass, 2015). Slaveholders were enraged by this activity and demanded the government to introduce stricter laws to deter slaves from escaping and punish those who dared to disobey. Despite multiple challenges, thousands of slaves managed to escape due to the Underground Railroad and build a new life in free lands.
Foner, E. (2015). Gateway to freedom: The hidden history of America’s fugitive slaves. Oxford, the UK: Oxford University Press.
Pettit, E. (2015). Sketches in the history of the Underground Railroad. New York, NY: Open Road Media.
Snodgrass, M. E. (2015). The Underground Railroad: An encyclopedia of people, places, and operations. New York, NY: Routledge.
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