Friday, April 4, 2014

Book Review: The Underground Railroad: A Primary Source History of the Journey to Freedom

The Underground Railroad: A Primary Source History of the Journey to Freedom, Philip Wolny, Primary Sources in American History, Rosen Publish, New York, NY., 2004.
I like this book.  The idea of including primary source material in the book is very good, and at the end of the book there is transcribed versions of some of the material used.  This book focuses on the abolitionist movement and the Underground Railroad.  It includes a political map of the United States, and shows the great division in terms of free and slave states.  It also talks of the Underground Railroad as an entity of people helping slaves reach freedom.  Some traveled to the South, and went disguised as a gentleman or a field hand, so as to get close to the slaves and inform them of the chance to run.  Others worked behind the scenes, helping the slaves head North.  Canada was the likely destination as there they were beyond the reach of the slave hunters.  This talks provides information about anti-slave newspapers, the climate in which these newspapers were published, and the measure people went to, to gain their freedom, including shipping yourself in a box.  Secret messages were passed in songs, and in quilt squares.  It talks about the conductors, people who lead the slaves, and the station houses, houses where runaways could hole up..  Often these homes were marked with a candle in an upper room.  Hiding places were sometimes elaborate.
The book talks about prominent abolitionists including Frederick Douglas and John Brown.  One of the primary sources was excerpts from the statement made by John Brown before he was hung.  Open revolt was rare, but it did occur.  The most famous was Nat Turner, who with a group of other slaves murdered over 55 people in a rampage before he was caught.  Those murdered were all white and included women and children.  John Brown predicted that the only way to resolve the issue of slavery was with much blood.  He was right.  This book concludes with Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation.
I didn’t like the introduction.  It uses the imagine if you and tries to put the reader in the shoes of a runaway slave.  Imagine if doesn’t get to me. 

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