The Underground Railroad Leaves its Tracks in History

February 27, 2012

Last week during National Black History Month, ground was broken on the National Mall in Washington, DC, for what will become the National Museum of African American History and Culture. In his remarks at the ceremony, President Obama mentioned that he wanted his daughters to see the famous African Americans like Harriet Tubman not as larger-than-life characters, but as inspiration of “how ordinary Americans can do extraordinary things.

Image: This original photo of Harriet Tubman in the handbook lists the many roles she played in addition to being a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad, including nurse, spy and scout for the Union army during the Civil War. Her quote: “I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person now I was free. There was such a glory over everything… I felt like I was in heaven.” Source: The Underground Railroad: Official National Park Handbook.

One of the most dramatic areas of African American history is the story of the fight against slavery and the profile in courage represented by the ordinary people who did extraordinary things while participating in the Underground Railroad.

The National Park Service (NPS) has produced a number of exemplary publications about it, with three of them available today from the U.S. Government Bookstore, including the

That these items are not your typical guidebooks about a single historic site is due to the fact that the Underground Railroad itself is not a typical American national park.

Congress and the National Park Service act to preserve the legacy of the Underground Railroad

Back in 1990, Congress instructed the National Park Service to perform a special resource study of the Underground Railroad, its routes and operations in order to preserve and interpret this aspect of United States history.

Following the study, the National Park Service was mandated by Public Law 105-203 in 1998 (you can read the law on GPO’s FDSys site) to commemorate and preserve this history through a new National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program to “educate the public about the importance of the Underground Railroad in the eradication of slavery, its relevance in fostering the spirit of racial harmony and national reconciliation, and the evolution of our national civil rights movement.”

What was the Underground Railroad?

What was called the Underground Railroad was neither “underground” nor a “railroad,” but was instead a loose network of aid and assistance by antislavery sympathizers and freed blacks across the country that may have helped as many as one hundred thousand enslaved persons escape their bondage from before the American Revolution through the Civil War.

Image: NY State historical marker in Albany for the UGRR along the American Trails UGRR bicycle route.

Describing one of the most significant internal resistance movements ever, the National Park Service said in a 1996 press release that:

The Underground Railroad was perhaps the most dramatic protest against human bondage in United States history.  It was a clandestine operation that began during colonial times, grew as part of the organized abolitionist movement, and reached a peak between 1830 and 1865. The story is filled with excitement and triumph as well as tragedy –-individual heroism and sacrifice as well as cooperation to help enslaved people reach freedom. 

Where did the term “Underground Railroad” come from?

Historians cannot confirm the origins of the name, but one of the stories reported by the Park Service has the term coming out of Washington, DC, in 1839, when a recaptured fugitive slave allegedly claimed under torture that his escape plan instructions were to send him north, where “the railroad ran underground all the way to Boston.” However it came about, the term was widely in use by 1840, and is often shortened to “UGRR” by “those in the know.”

Image: An 1837 newspaper ad about a runaway slave from the book “The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom” By Wilbur Henry Siebert, 1898. 

Underground Railroad Routes

Another byproduct of the UGRR special resource study was that the National Park Service carried out an analysis of slavery and abolitionism and identified the primary escape routes used on the UGRR.

The map below is included in the Underground Railroad: Official Map and Guide, produced by the National Park Service Cartographic staff at Harpers Ferry Center, shows the general direction of escape routes. Contrary to popular belief, Canada was not the only destination for freedom-seeking slaves–since some fled to Mexico, Florida and the Caribbean– but it was the primary destination as the efforts to catch fugitives increased.

Image: Selected Routes of the Underground Railroad from the Underground Railroad: Official Map and Guide.

Additional outputs of the resource study and the subsequent research are the following three excellent Underground Railroad publications from the National Park Service.

Underground Railroad: Official National Park Handbook

The first book in our trio of publications is the Underground Railroad: Official National Park Handbook. It is comprised of a series of fascinating articles by top Underground Railroad historians that weave together a thorough view of the amazing stories behind the legend, illustrated with many drawings, court records, letters, paintings, photos, and other pictorial representations that help make this history come alive for the reader.

The handbook is broken into 3 major sections and 5 chapters:

  • Part I: An Epic in United States History:
    • 1- Myth and Reality by Larry Gara. This introductory chapter reviews and evaluates the truths vs. the legends that grew about the Underground Railroad.
  • Part II: From Bondage to Freedom:
    • 2- Slavery in America by Brenda E. Stevenson. In this chapter, the author details the rise of the institution of slavery in America and the harsh realities of life for the people who suffered under it. An interesting segment discusses the inequities of life for enslaved women vs. men.  
    • 3- The Underground Railroad by C. Peter Ripley. This fascinating chapter tells the courageous and often harrowing stories of freedom seekers and those who aided them, including Harriet Tubman who made nearly 20 trips to lead 300 slaves to freedom and Henry “Box” Brown who shipped himself in a 2X3’ wooden crate from Richmond to Philadelphia to escape. Sprinkled throughout are cameos of famous former fugitives and abolitionists including Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglas, and abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison and Gerritt Smith, among many others.
  • Part III: Tracking the Past:
    • 4- Tracking the Past by the National Park Service. This chapter outlines some of the work done by the National Park Service and others to discover, verify and catalog the important people, places and artifacts related to the Underground Railroad.
    • 5- Further Reading by Marie Tyler McGraw. In this final chapter, the author provides a recommended reading list for interested researchers of the authoritative works related to different aspects of the Underground Railroad story.

Underground Railroad: Official Map and Guide

This map and guide includes drawings, blurbs, maps and chronologies about different aspects of the slave trade and the Underground Railroad.

Included in this fold-out map and guide are the escape routes map shown earlier, vignettes of key figures from key “conductors” on the Railroad to abolitionists, and even a short glossary of terms related to the UGRR.

Discovering the Underground Railroad: Junior Ranger Activity Book

The final item in our trio of publications is the Discovering the Underground Railroad: Junior Ranger Activity Book.

Many National Parks offer visitors the opportunity to join the National Park Service Family as Junior Rangers. Interested students complete a series of activities during their park visit, share their answers with a park ranger, and receive an official Junior Ranger badge or patch and Junior Ranger certificate.

Since there is no one national park site for the Underground Railroad, the National Park Service came up with a different process with this activity book. Aspiring Underground Railroad Junior Rangers have to complete different numbers of activities in the book pertaining to their particular age level, then send the completed booklet in to the National Park Service’s Omaha office. There, “a ranger will go over your answers and then return your booklet along with an official Junior Ranger Badge for your efforts.

This fun booklet includes activities appropriate from ages 5 to 10 and older, from word finders and mazes to essays and historical fact matching.

How can you get these Underground Railroad publications?

About the Author:  Michele Bartram is Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division and is responsible for online and offline marketing of the US Government Online Bookstore (Bookstore.gpo.gov) and promoting Federal government content to the public.


Beauty and the Best- Two calendars inspire New Year’s resolutions

January 18, 2012

In January of every year, people around the world find themselves making their New Year’s resolution. However, resolutions that come from the Government tend to be about serious topics like laws or declaring war. Case in point: George Washington himself famously said in a letter in 1775 justifying the American colony’s inevitable steps toward declaring independence: “We have, therefore, to resolve to conquer or die.”

Thus, you will be pleasantly surprised to know that the Federal Government can also help us with some of our personal resolutions as well. The most popular personal resolutions tend to be about getting fit, or finding more time to “stop and smell the roses” by relaxing and enjoying the beauty around us.

With their decorative and inspiring calendars for 2012, the National Park Service and the Marine Corps are ensuring that we can meet both these New Year’s resolutions with showing us both “Beauty” and “The Best”.


The National Historic Landmark 2012 Event Planner Calendar

This 12-month wall calendar / event planner from The National Park Service features the winning photographs from their Twelfth Annual National Historic Landmarks (NHL) Photo Contest.

According to the contest rules, these original photos have to be “fantastic photographs that illustrate the significance of any of the over 2,500 National Historic Landmarks, our nation’s most significant treasures”.  One beautiful image from each National Park Service region and a stunning national winner were all chosen last fall from thousands of submissions for inclusion in this 2012 calendar, with the winning photograph gracing the cover.

The winning cover photo (shown above) by photographer Eric Vondy was of National Historic Landmark Pecos Pueblo, in South of Pecos, New Mexico. Park Service judges described it:

This evocative photograph inspires the imagination, yet this site’s real history is legendary. Led by an Indian guide called “The Turk,” famous Spanish explorer Coronado and his men set out from this pueblo to search for Quivira, one of the legendary “Seven Cities of Gold.” Abandoned in 1838, today the site, east of Santa Fe, is managed by Pecos National Historical Park.

   

Calendar Images: (Left) 1895 lumber schooner C.A. Thayer, San Francisco, California. Photographer: John Conway.  (Right) Missouri Botanical Gardens, St. Louis, Missouri. Photographer: Judy Hitzeman.

Want to see your photo win next year? If you’re a photographer, amateur or professional, you can participate in their next annual National Park Service photo contest. Read the details on their  Annual National Historic Landmarks (NHL) Photo Contest web site.

How do I get this 2012 National Historic Landmarks Photo Contest event planner calendar?

  • UPDATE AS OF 1/19/2012:  Due to the overwhelming customer response to this blog post, unfortunately GPO has sold out of its remaining stock of this calendar! If more should become available, we will update this post.

However, feel free to enjoy the beautiful images from the calendar on the National Park Service’s FlickR page for the National Historic Landmarks 2011 Photo Contest Winners.


Marine Corps Special Issue Semper Fit Sports Calendar 2011-2012

The second wall calendar is even more surprising and very inspiring as well to those who are resolved to living a healthier lifestyle through fitness.

Issued by Marines Magazine, the Marine Corps’ Official Magazine, this colorful 17-month Sports Calendar (August 2011 – December 2012) recognizes some of the outstanding athlete “leathernecks” who participate in the Marine Corps’ “Semper Fit” sports, recreation and fitness program worldwide.  (“Semper Fit” is a nod to the Marine Corps motto of “Semper Fi” short for “Semper Fidelis” which is Latin for “Always Faithful” or “Always Loyal”).

One Marine base describes the Semper Fit program:

The mission at Semper Fit is to conduct, encourage and inspire the quality of life programs for that promote Healthy Lifestyles through recreation, athletics, physical fitness, the Single Marine Program and other health and wellness activities for Marine Corps active and retired members, their families and civilian workers.

The photographs on this calendar depict everything from individual sports such as the famous Marine Corps Marathon held annually in Washington, DC, and aerial motorcycle tricks…

   

Calendar Images: (Left) Start of the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC. (Right) Motorbike aerialist and member of the “Metal Mulisha Troops” Marine stunt team.

…to intramural and varsity sports like baseball, basketball, wrestling, tug-of-war, the Dragon Boat Race, and the Warrior Games.

 

Calendar Images: (Left) Tug-of-war competition at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan. (Right) All-Marine team of active duty and veteran “wounded warriors” at opening ceremony of the all Armed Forces Warrior Games.

Many of the athletes included are recognized globally for their athletic ability, and others are Marines who stay at the top of their game no matter their age or disability, maintaining the extremely high physical fitness standards of the Corps.

The calendar also includes Federal holidays and key dates of significance to the Corps.

The Father of Semper Fit retires

Ironically, last month after nearly 36 years of service as a Marine officer and a civilian whose final role was as Quantico’s head of recreation, Chris D’Orazio, the founder of the Semper Fit program retired.

Image: Col. Dan Choike, base commander, presents Chris D’Orazio, head of recreation, a challenge coin during D’Orazio’s retirement ceremony in the Main Ballroom at the Clubs of Quantico on Dec. 5, 2011. Source: Quantico Sentry newspaper

In an interview for the Quantico Sentry, D’Orazio explained how the Semper Fit program concept came to him back in 1985, D’Orazio when he read an article about the low life expectancy of retired Marines, whether officer or enlisted:

 “Marines, especially back then, played hard, worked hard, drank hard and smoked hard,” said D’Orazio. “I looked out the window and saw a young Marine put out a cigarette, finish a can of beer, then walk back inside the building.”

“I look down and thought to myself, based on this article, this guy’s going to live less than five years after he retires,” D’Orazio said. “After a career and everything they’ve worked for, they are probably going to die that soon; that’s terrible. That was pretty much the genesis of the word ‘Semper Fit.’”

In addition to the “Semper Fit” program for USMC, D’Orazio started the “Getting Stronger, Now” fitness program for the state of Maryland, both of which were pilot fitness programs under the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.

This 2012 Semper Fit calendar is a fitting tribute to a man who dedicated his life to, well, fitness!

And the photos are pretty inspiring to hang on anyone’s wall, too!

Calendar Image: Marines compete in the 37th annual Naha Dragon Boat Race in Naha, Japan.

How do I get this Marine Corps 2012 Semper Fit Sports calendar?

  • Buy it online 24/7 at GPO’s Online Bookstore.
  • Buy it at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday-Friday, 9am to 4pm, except Federal holidays, (202) 512-0132.

So whether you aspire to find more beauty in the world around you or to be the best you can be, the Government is here to help you out!

Resolve to have a safe and happy 2012, America!


Summer Travels

July 7, 2010

Government publications are more than just books. Guest blogger Kelly Seifert reminds us that maps and guides can be just as engrossing, especially at this time of year.

If you’re planning on doing some travel around the country this summer, you can start your planning with the National Parks System Map and Guide. It features a map of the United States, including Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, showing the locations of parks, historic sites, and other properties operated by the National Park Service. On the reverse side, an alphabetical list of each National Park System property describes its activities, services, and facilities. If you’re planning on exploring any of the 391 destinations of the National Parks Service this summer, this is an essential take along. You can also easily access this publication by visiting your local Federal depository library. Locate a library in your area here.

To make your trip complete, check out these other great publications as well: 1) the National Trails System: Map and Guide, which includes descriptions of national historic and scenic trails, and 2) the National Wildlife Refuge System: A Visitor’s Guide, which contains a map showing national wildlife refuges that provide recreational and educational opportunities. The Visitor’s Guide also provides tips for visiting national wildlife refuges and lists refuges in all 50 States, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, along with the best wildlife viewing season and the features of each refuge.

Why leave the country for a little R&R when there are so many national treasures right on your doorstep? Happy Travels!


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