SLAVERY AND THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD
The simple fact is that everybody has heard of the Underground Railroad, but not everyone knows just what it was. First of all, it wasn=t underground, and it wasn=t even a railroad. The term AUnderground Railroad,@ actually refers to a path along which escaping slaves were passed from farmhouse to storage sheds, from cellars to barns, until they reached safety in the North. One of the most widely known abolitionists in history is a slave by the name of Harriet Tubman. She is best known as the conductor of the Underground Railroad and risked her life to help free nearly 300 slaves. The primary importance of the Underground Railroad was the ongoing fight to abolish slavery, the start of the Civil War, and it was one of our nation=s first major anti-slavery movements.
The history of the Underground Railroad has various opinions, according to what you are reading and to whom you are talking. Slavery in America thrived and continued to grow because there was a scarcity of labor. Cultivation of crops on plantations that were owned by rich white men in the South, could be supervised while slaves used simple routines to harvest them. Considering the extremely low costs that the slaves could be bought, the profits earned were bonuses for not having to pay hired work.
Hundreds of slaves turned to freedom for more than one reason. Some obviously wanted to be free and live a life where they were no longer tortured or had to live in conditions that were no better than those of animals. One writer described such a Ahome@ - Ait was a dismal chamber, its only lights consisting of a few panes of glass through which the sun never shone. The space between the loose boards of the floor and the uneven earth below was often filled with mud and water. Inmates of both sexes and all ages slept on those damp boards, like horses, with a little straw and a blanket.@ (Harriet Tubman, Slavery and the Underground Railroad, pg. 24) Others ran due to the fear of being separated or sold from their friends and family. Since the beginning of the African Slave Trade that brought slaves to America in 1444, the slaves wanted to escape. Those who were free at that time were the white people who seemed to be separated in values. The North was a more industrialized area where jobs were filled by newly imported immigrants, making them less dependent on slav...
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...population with whom they intermarried and reproduced. After the Civil War began, others found shelter with the Union Army. The slaves soon found out that freedom did not mean the freedom not to work, but their lives were much better because they were allowed to make their own decisions. Although many slaves were free, they still remained illiterate for the most part, and once again they were taken advantage of by cruel employers. Those who learned to do specific jobs in the South often took up similar jobs in the North. The need for the Underground Railroad slowly began to decrease as he fight for abolishing slavery grew stronger. The final motion that brought the Underground Railroad to an end was the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln, which ended slavery in our now free country, forever.
McClard, Megan. Harriet Tubman, Slavery and the Underground Railroad. New Jersey: Silver Burdett Press, 1991.
Hart, Albert Bushnell. Slavery and Abolition. New York: Negro Universities Press, 1906.
Roots of Resistance, Slavery and the Underground Railroad. Videotape.
Clinton, Catherine. Half Sisters of History. Duke University Press, 1994.
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