The Underground Railroad: The Invisible Rails

462_160I have repeatedly expressed the evils of slavery, in spite the fact that white folk tries to claim “it wasn’t that bad” or claim those living today had nothing to do with it. We know they have changed history to make it appear as if they are Christian and not of the devil. Malcolm told us they were devils and most would call them savages.

Try to imagine how horrible slavery was, being beaten, raped, and sold. Thankfully, during those times there were slaves brave enough to create the Underground Railroad, which was a network of secret routes and safe houses established during the early-to-mid 19th century, and used by African American slaves to escape into free states and Canada with the aid of abolitionists and allies who were sympathetic to their cause.

The term is also applied to the abolitionist movement were both black and white, free and enslaved, who aided the fugitives on their journey. Most don’t know that there were various other routes that led to Mexico or overseas. An earlier escape route running south toward Florida, then a Spanish possession, existed from the late 17th century until shortly after the American Revolution. However, the network generally known as the Underground Railroad was formed in the early 1800s, and reached its height between 1850 and 1860. Estimates suggest that by 1850, 100,000 slaves had escaped via the “Railroad”.

Canada, where slavery was prohibited, was a popular destination, as its long border gave many points of access. More than 30,000 people were said to have escaped there via the network during its 20-year peak period, although U.S. Census figures account for only 6,000. Numerous fugitives’ stories are documented in the 1872 book The Underground Railroad Records by William Still, an abolitionist who then headed the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee.

At its peak, nearly 1,000 slaves per year escaped from slave-holding states using the Underground Railroad – more than 5,000 court cases for escaped slaves were recorded – much fewer than the natural increase of the enslaved population. The resulting economic impact was minuscule, but the psychological influence on slaveholders was immense. Under the original Fugitive Slave Act of 1793, officials from free states were required to assist slaveholders or their agents who recaptured runaway slaves, but citizens and governments of many free states ignored the law, and the Underground Railroad thrived.

With heavy lobbying by Southern politicians, the Compromise of 1850 was passed by Congress after the Mexican–American War. It stipulated a more stringent Fugitive Slave Law; ostensibly, the compromise addressed regional problems by compelling officials of free states to assist slave catchers, granting them immunity to operate in free states. Because the law required sparse documentation to claim a person was a fugitive, slave catchers also kidnapped free blacks, especially children, and sold them into slavery. Southern politicians often exaggerated the number of escaped slaves and often blamed these escapes on Northerners interfering with Southern property rights.

The law deprived suspected slaves of the right to defend themselves in court, making it difficult to prove free status. In a de facto bribe, judges were paid a higher fee of $10 for a decision that confirmed a suspect as a slave than for one ruling that the suspect was free. Many Northerners who might have ignored slave issues in the South were confronted by local challenges that bound them to support slavery. This was a primary grievance cited by the Union during the American Civil War, and the perception that the Northern States ignored the fugitive slave law was a major justification for secession.

The Underground Railroad inspired cultural works. For example, “Song of the Free”, written in 1860 about a man fleeing slavery in Tennessee by escaping to Canada, was composed to the tune of “Oh! Susanna”. Every stanza ends with a reference to Canada as the land “where colored men are free”. Slavery in Upper Canada was outlawed in 1793; in 1819, John Robinson, the Attorney General of Upper Canada, declared that by residing in Canada, black residents were set free and that Canadian courts would protect their freedom. Slavery in Canada as a whole had been in rapid decline after an 1803 court ruling and was finally abolished outright in 1834.

With the outbreak of the Civil War in the U.S., many black refugees left Canada to enlist in the Union Army. While some later returned to Canada, many remained in the United States. Thousands of others returned to the American South after the war ended. The desire to reconnect with friends and family was strong, and most were hopeful about the changes emancipation and Reconstruction would bring.

Black History Month is designed for you learn and know your history! So as our ancestors did keep you eye on the north star and free you mind and your ass will follow! And that is my thought provoking perspective…

About Thought Provoking Perspectives

Welcome to Thought Provoking Perspectives a blog designed to be a potent source of empowering knowledge to broaden the information base with those who share my passion for the written word and the empowerment of thought. View all posts by Thought Provoking Perspectives

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