I had reasoned this
out in my mind, there was one of two things I had a right to,
liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would
have the other. — Harriet Tubman
Enslave a people and they
will find a way to escape. As the Underground Railroad developed,
a metaphor unfolded that grew into a culture and myth of its own.
People were passengers, although they never set foot on a train
car; homes were stations, but there were no tracks; conductors
led a group of people but never collected tickets. It was a road
to freedom that followed the drinking gourd, a code name for the
Big Dipper and North Star.
When did the Underground Railroad begin? How many people escaped
between the American Revolution and the Civil War? What were the
code words used on the Underground Railroad, and who were the people
who risked their safety for a cause that they believed was just?
Let's travel back in time and learn about the Underground Railroad.
Aboard the Underground Railroad
Aboard the Underground Railroad showcases 55 historic places that
are listed in the National Park Service's National Register of Historic
Places. Sketches of the people associated with each home shed light
on the historical significance of the abolitionist organizations
of the time. A map is included with the most common directions for
escape on the Underground Railroad. Individual state maps marking
the location of the historic properties make it an easy site to navigate.
History Channel Underground Railroad
The History Channel is a good starting point for information about
the beginnings, people, and places ofthe Underground Railroad. Biographies
accompanied by photographs describe seven prominent figures in the
movement. To better understand the reality versus the myth of the
Underground Railroad, a series of primary source documents are presented
along with a teacher's guide for discussion. Rounding out the site
is a section on slavery in America covering the Abolitionist Movement,
the Civil War, the Dred Scott Case, Fugitive Slave Law, and Uncle
Kentucky's Underground Railroad
Read about the origination of the term Underground
Railroad. Compare the timelines outlining major events in Kentucky
and American history
that contributed to the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,
making slavery illegal and extending civil rights to former slaves.
Then, view the documentary Kentucky's Underground Railroad—Passage
to Freedom using RealPlayer. Each segment features a topic and summary.
This is a great resource.
National Geographic Underground Railroad
National Geographic has created an excellent interactive
trip on the Underground Railroad. Highlights include listening
Away" and meeting people associated with the Underground Railroad
and the Abolitionist movement.
National Underground Railroad Network
The National Park Service is implementing a national Underground
Railroad program to coordinate preservation and education efforts
nationwide and to integrate local historical places, museums, and
interpretive programs associated with the Underground Railroad into
a mosaic of community, regional, and national stories. The site includes
a database of historic sites and programs by states. Each is categorized
by state and contains a brief description. On the main page are links
to regional stories about the Underground Railroad.
On the Underground Railroad
Through a combination of rap, gospel music, and visuals, a brief
history of the Underground Railroad is presented. The story begins
in 1831 with the escape of Tice Davids, a Kentucky slave, who swims
across the Ohio River to freedom. Additional verses cover Uncle Tom's
Cabin, John Brown, Harriett Tubman, the Fugitive Slave Law, and the
Dred Scott case. A teacher's guide that includes a chronology, vocabulary,
and activities accompanies the music video. There is a nominal fee for the full recordings.
and Primary Sources
Harriet Tubman from America's Library
Harriet Tubman was not only a conductor on the Underground Railroad,
but a spy for the Union army during the Civil War. The Library of
Congress has gathered together primary source material to supplement
the narrative about her adventures. This is a great starting point
for factual information.
Henry Box Brown
Students will be fascinated by the story of Henry Box Brown, who
mailed himself to freedom. He traveled 350 miles from Richmond, Virginia,
to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. For 27 hours he was enclosed in a
box 3-feet long and 2-1/2-feet deep. His experience was made famous
by his narrative, published in 1851.
Influence of Prominent Abolitionists
Illustrations, documents, and broadsides illuminate the influence
of the Abolitionists during the 19th century in American history.
Featured are publications from the Anti-Slavery Convention, the Anti-Slavery
Almanac for 1840, the North Star, Two Speeches by Frederick Douglass,
and Make the Slave's Case Our Own by Susan B. Anthony; illustrations
of the Anti-Slavery Meeting on the Boston Common, and title card
for Uncle Tom's Cabin; and a broadside of Anthony Burns, who was
arrested and tried under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.
William Lloyd Garrison
Garrison was an outspoken Abolitionist who expressed
his opinions through The Liberator, an anti-slavery publication
he began in 1831.
You will find a brief biography, a letter from Harriett Beecher Stowe
to Garrison, and his famous editorial, "To the Public," which
appeared in the first issue of the newspaper.
William Still is sometimes called the Father of the Underground
Railroad. He was an ardent abolitionist and the first African American
to join the Pennsylvania Abolition Society. His home was one of the
busiest stations on the Underground Railroad, affording him the opportunity
to interview many of the fugitives. In 1879, Still published The
Underground Railroad: A Record of Facts, Authentic Narratives, Letters,
etc. This was one of the first major works about the Underground
Railroad and contained many firsthand accounts. The full text of
the book is available along with 70 illustrations.
Explanation of Follow the Drinking Gourd
"Follow the Drinking Gourd" is a song filled
with coded references. At this NASA site, the verses are deciphered
are given as to the meanings behind the song.
Follow the Drinking Gourd
Sing along to the tune of the "Drinking Gourd" at
this folk music site. Background information attributes the spread
song to an itinerant carpenter, Peg Leg Joe, who traveled throughout
the South, passing the tune to slaves.
Steal Away: Songs of the Underground Railroad
If you are looking for a commercial source for songs,
visit this site. You can listen to samples in either real audio
or wave files.
Kim and Reggie Harris, contemporary artists, present these songs "to
honor the tradition and spirit of the music through the prism of
their own musical experience and evolution."Descriptions about
the songs give insight into the dual meanings many of them had during
that era. Some of the songs included in the collection are "Oh
Freedom," "Deep River," and "Go Down Moses."
Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt
This lesson focuses on the book Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt
by Deborah Hopkinson with illustrations by James Ransome. Students
learn about the geographic concepts needed to examine culture and
the processes needed to be a good citizen in American society. Many
engaging activities will inspire students to problem solve and think
in a critical way.
Pathways to Freedom: Quilts
activities are designed to teach children about the
secret codes that might have been used on the Underground Railroad. There
is debate over wheather or not quilts contained secret codes.
Have students locate Underground Railroad stations and their locations.
Plot them on a map and see if any patterns emerge. Research and analyze
first-person accounts. Have students write about what they believe
were the major hardships while traveling on the Underground Railroad.
What would they have done if they were in the same situation? Or
make an Underground Railroad quilt. No matter what activities you
choose, your students will have a new appreciation for the Underground
Railroad and its impact on American history.