Underground Railroad was a massive secret network of
individuals—abolitionists, free blacks, fugitive slaves, whites, Native
Americans—who were dedicated to helping slaves escape from the South
before and during the Civil War.
never formally organized, tens of thousands of slaves, aided by more
than 3,200 railroad “workers,” escaped to northern states and to Canada,
Texas, Mexico and through Florida to the Caribbean.
The leaders of the railroad, called “conductors,” led slaves to freedom
from many directions and religious denominations played important roles
in helping slaves escape.
to Denise Dallmer of Northern Kentucky University, the importance of
the Underground Railroad movement is that it was the first civil rights
movement and represents a multiracial effort to achieve freedom.
In an article on the Web site www.historycooperative.org,
she called the railroad a liberation movement with black and whites who
were courageous, brave, determined and creative in a common goal:
helping slaves gain freedom. The History Cooperative is a resource site for historians.
to Alicestyne Turley-Adams, director of the Underground Railroad
Research Institute, it is not clear when slave escapes came to be
thought of as an “underground railroad” but the term was clearly
entrenched by the 1830s, when the popularity of trains was combined with
institute, housed in the former slave quarters of John A. Sullivan at
Georgetown (Ky.) College fosters research on African-American resistance
to slavery and racism and seeks to broaden public understanding of this
aspect of American history. Its purpose is to study the historical and
cultural context of the system in Kentucky and Ohio.
a brochure Turley-Adams designed for the launch of the United Methodist
historically black college and universities endowment campaign, she
wrote that one story of the Underground Railroad’s origin occurred when a
slave named Tice Davids fled Kentucky in 1831 and “probably” was hidden
by a Presbyterian minister in Ripley, Ohio.
was chased by his owner in a rowboat as he swam across the Ohio River
“where he disappeared without a trace, leaving the bewildered
slaveholder to wonder if Davids had somehow ‘gone off on some
underground road.’” She wrote that the story of Davids’ escape spread
among slaves throughout the South “fueling myths and hopes of escape via
an ‘underground railroad.’”
*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Linda Green, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.