The Underground Railroad

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“The Color Purple” research project
End of slavery is the USA – The Underground Railroad
Even from the beginning of the USA slavery was the norm. White people owned the black people and made them work for them, long days, hard work and in terrible conditions. However some people realised that this was wrong. The earliest recorded rescue of slaves was in 1787 when Isaac Hopper began helping slaves escape from their owners and live free lives as they deserved. By the 1820’s this operation was in full swing across the states, with many people joining in this heroic deed. As this whole operation grew larger and more structured it gained the name “The Underground Railroad” however the most vital point to understand is that it was neither underground nor anything to do with trains. The Underground Railroad was a secret network of roads used to lead slaves to the “free” states in the north and Canada. For the abolitionists and the slaves themselves, this was a dangerous and long trek which could last up to two years. Thanks to the outstanding efforts made by the “train masters”, or people who orchestrated the passage of slaves to freedom (particularly Harriet Tubman, a former slave, and Levi Coffin, the reputed president of the Underground Railroad) and the owners of safe houses (places for the slaves to rest between journeys), many slaves escaped to freedom. Many people, like Isaac Hopper, had experimental impulses to free individual slaves but this gradually became an organised operation. The brave heroes devised a network of safe houses (homes of people willing to hide runaways overnight), this made the escapes a lot more successful and kept the routes of the slaves secret from any slave catchers in that area. (See Appendix A for a map of the routes) Although the operation was in full swing in the 1820’s, it didn’t have its name; many people called it the mysterious road (in Indiana) or something of a similar nature, each area had their own name for it. The actual name came from the slave owners themselves, jokingly saying that there must be an underground road that the slaves escaped into whenever they failed to catch them. Later this idea was combined with the idea of safe houses being stations and it became globally known as the Underground Railroad. This operation was solely orchestrated by “station masters”, “conductors”, free blacks and sympathetic whites. By 1850 there were 3,000 people involved, and thanks to them, by the 19th century a mass of around 50,000 slaves had escaped to the north and Canada. Not a lot can be certain about the Underground Railroad, there are many stories about quilts giving messages to the slaves or the songs they sang holding hidden instructions on how to escape, the only thing that is known for certain (and most likely the only sure thing the slaves themselves knew) is that each safe house was identified by a lantern on a hitching post in the garden. Even with this information we can already see how secretive and risky this whole operation was, for slaves and abolitionists.

We have already identified the heroes of this story as being the free blacks and the sympathetic whites, but these people were incredibly kind and brave to risk their lives( and in some cases their businesses and their families lives) for the right to freedom they strongly believed all the blacks deserved. This remarkable act of kindness has been the subject or novels for years. At first the slaves made their own way to the free states, as you can imagine they were totally unfamiliar with anywhere other than where they worked, so they were often caught and therefore their hopes of freedom were diminished. What the abolitionists actually did was, they devised formal routes for the slaves to travel, directing them to the next safe house and often transporting them and giving them food for the journey. This was very dangerous as the smallest punishment was a heavy fine and the largest being death. Most of these...
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