February is Black History Month. It calls upon all Americans to honor African-American expressions of sacrifice and heroism throughout history. The earliest endeavors in the national civil rights struggle have much to do with the outcry against human bondage.
Prior to the Civil War, organized abolitionists were aided by the loosely interconnected Underground Railroad. Neither underground nor railroad, the UGGR, as it was known to patrons, was a scattered, clandestine network of antislavery diehards and freed blacks. Secret routes and safe houses dotted the antebellum landscape spanning from Georgia to Canada. Between the peak years of 1830 and 1865, it helped as many as one hundred thousand fugitive slaves escape to freedom.
Harriet Tubman, a UGGR conductor, remarked upon on her eight years spent freeing slaves: “I can say what most conductors can’t say—I never run my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.” Tubman became a revered voice in the protest against the debasing injustices of slavery. In 2013, President Obama established the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument. You can read the park pamphlet available through GPO’s Catalog of U.S. Government Publications.
Today, the Underground Railroad is an atypical national park. It wasn’t until the 1990s that it came under the jurisdiction the National Park Service (NPS). After conducting a study of UGGR operations and primary routes, NPS was entrusted with its preservation and interpretation. You can read the act establishing the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom on GPO’s govinfo.gov.
The Underground Railroad connected sympathizers with freedom seekers, freed with enslaved. The untold numbers of underground success stories sprouted above ground into a vast nexus of advocates and defenders. Unquestionably, the UGGR ride to freedom helped lay the tracks for the civil rights movement of the 20th century. During this Black History Month, may we admire that extraordinary effort to liberate a people and the larger African-American journey to freedom in all its forms.
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Click on the Links: For the free resources, click on the links above in the blog post.
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- Click here to purchase Underground Railroad
- Click here to purchase Underground Railroad: Official Map and Guide
- Click here to purchase Discovering the Underground Railroad: Junior Ranger Activity Book
- Click here to browse our African Americans history collection
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About the author: Our guest blogger is Chelsea Milko, Public Relations Specialist in GPO’s Public Relations Office.