The Underground Railroad

Monday, September 19, 2011

When you hear about an Underground Railroad in the USA, what is your first thought? The subway, the tube, the underground? That’s what comes to my mind. Actually, from 1793 to 1860 there was an Underground Railroad in the United States but it wasn’t a form of transportation --- it was a passage to freedom for escaped slaves from the South to the North.

The Underground Railroad was a secret network of hiding places and people who attempted to help fugitive slaves escape from slavery and move them to and from safe places in a quick and secretive way. Their activities did not literally take place underground or via a railroad, nor was it an official organization.

People involved with the Underground Railroad had special words to describe participants, safe places, and other necessary information. People who guided slaves from place to place were called "conductors." Locations where slaves could safely find protection, food, or a place to sleep were called "safe houses" or "stations." Those who hid fugitive slaves in their homes, barns, or churches were called "station masters." Slaves who were in the safekeeping of a conductor or station master were "cargo."

It must be noted that while conductors and fugitive slaves were participating on the Underground Railroad, all of their actions were illegal. Today’s estimates indicate the number of slaves who successfully escaped reached 100,000, but there are many, many more who did not succeed. I live in the northern United States, in the state of Wisconsin, and there is an Underground Railroad safe house on the road where my mother lives and I was able to go inside it once. Even now, whenever I pass it, I think about life 200 years ago and the risks people took to get there.

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