Thursday, January 26, 2012

Just Finished Reading

The idea of the Underground Railroad has fascinated me since I was a boy. In 4th grade I had Indiana history and heard tales of personalities like Levi Coffin and places around my town of Madison that had allegedly hid runaway slaves.

Much of the Underground Railroad's story is built on myth, but fortunately, over the last thirty years or so, serious scholarship has been produced to help us better understand the real story of the trail to freedom.

Dr. J. Blaine Hudson's book brings to light many of the people and places that have been ignored in favor more traditional Underground Railroad stories. Hudson's use of primary sources such as runaway slave advertisements, newspaper articles and court cases shows that much of the success that runaways had was due to their own decisions and ambition for freedom. Free African Americans too have not been traditionally received the credit they deserve for providing hiding places, sustenance, and encouragement to runaways. Whites such as Levi Coffin, Calvin Fairbank and John Rankin certainly risked much to help runaways, but much more often blacks received no white assistance and had to rely on their own wits and perseverance.

Of special interest to me was the author's discussion of the Madison crossing point. Slaves fleeing from central Kentucky often crossed the Ohio River at Madison and received direction and aid from Madison blacks such as George DeBaptist, Elijah Anderson, John Lott, Freman Anderson and Chapman Harris.
Provided in the book was a quote from the Louisville Courier from November 25, 1856 describing Harris. "Chapman Harris, a huge free Negro, black as the ace of a preacher from some where back of Madison, Ind., where he is said to be an active member of the Freedom Party."

This book is a great read full of wonderful research. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give it a 4.5.

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