Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Documentary Review: Underground Railroad: History Channel

This documentary is well done.  It doesn't rely on historical reenactmenty, but research, and lets the story tell itself.  It starts off by pointing to the myths.  The underground railroad was not a railroad and it was not underground.  However it was a network of people helping people who were seeking freedom.  The message was spread through song, such as "Follow the Drinking Gourd" which gave instruction on the trail to follow, the drinking gourd being the big dipper which pointed to the north star. "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" was a song used by Harriet Tubman to warn of danger. "The Gospel Trains A' Coming" would let people know they were preparing to run. 

This film also talks about the people of the under ground railroad.  This is called the first civil rights movement, with white people and black people working together.  Frederick Douglas, a former slave, was an outspoken voice against slavery.  Harriet Tubman was also African American, had fled to freedom, but went back and helped at least 200, many relatives, reach freedom.  She had been beaten by a slave owner when young, which resulted in a seizure disorder.  She bragged of never losing anyone on her "train."
Ripley, OH was a city just north of the Ohio River from Kentucky.  This city was to goal for many fleaing slaves.  John Rankin's home in Ripley was used as a safe house.  Another individual, John Parker, who was a former slave, would cross the river nightly, and search for fleeing slaves to ferry them across the river.  He would take them home, or to the home of John Rankin. 
Anthony Burns had escaped slavery, but as a result of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, when he was captured and taken to jail, and tried, his return to slavery was a forgone conclusion.  He was not allowed to talk in his own defense.  In Boston they were near riot with regards to the recapture of Anthony Burns.  The government had to spend almost $100,000 between preventing the riot by hiring guards and the trial.  When he was returned to slavery in Virginia, his owner wold him for $900.  Eventually his freedom was purchased by those in the North. 
Dread Scott had been living free for sometime, and sued for his own freedom.  He felt sure he would win, but when his case was heard by the Supreme Court, which had many members appointed by presidents form slave states, the court ruled against him.  This two cases infuriated citizens of the North.  Roger B, Taney, the Chief Justice presented the outcome, indicating the slaves were property, no people.
Antislavery sentiment in the North was further fostered by a novelist.  Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote "Uncle Tom's Cabin" which was published in 1852.  One abolitionist who put his sentiments into action was John Brown.  John Brown was raised in an abolitionist home, and carried this sentiment.  He hoped to carry the underground railroad to all the slaves, by provoking an uprising.  He was able to take the armory at Harper's Ferry, but the federal government reacted harshly.  Many of Brown's men were killed, and Brown was tried and hung.
It was an important battle of the Civil War which lead to the Emancipation Proclamation and freedom of the slaves.  This was a long time in coming.

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