Friday, February 6, 2015

Black Conductors on the Underground Railroad

More and more I am seeing history being shared on social networks. One I came across a couple of weeks ago on Facebook gave some information to debunk seven myths about the Underground Railroad. It was written by Harvard University history professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and was located on a PBS website.

One of the myths, in fact the first that was listed was, "Well-intentioned white abolitionists, many of whom were Quakers, ran it." That the general public would believe this does not surprise me at all. I well remember my 4th grade Indiana history class where we learned about Hoosier Quaker Levi Coffin and his many contributions to shelter and move slaves through his east-central Indiana area. However, I do not remember any mention made of blacks like George DeBaptiste, Elijah Anderson, John Lott or Chapman Harris, all of whom lived in our own county and were conductors. Granted, much of the research was yet to be done and much of the history was yet to written about African American contributions when was I in grade school. But primary source evidence indicates that the stories were there all along just waiting to be uncovered and shared.  

The following are three period newspaper articles that mentioned free blacks who helped slaves escape. They are posted here for your reading pleasure.

From the May 29, 1855, Daily Louisville Democrat

From the August 20, 1858, Louisville Daily Courier

From the September 16, 1858, Louisville Daily Courier

1 comment:

  1. Tim, I believe you are absolutely correct. The conductors were the ones who risked their lives and skin the most, and there had to have been many more of them than the people who provided housing. Besides the fact that we tend to think of the Civil War as being won by whites--ignoring the risks and the roles of black soldiers who turned the tide in the end--white historians have tended to hold Tubman up as an exception. Quaker indeed did much to encourage emancipation from John Woolman on, but I suspect most of them would have been horrified to know how much they were held up as examples while other heroes and heroines have been neglected.

    Dee Ann Miller,
    author of Just Following Orders: Escape from Guerrilla Warfare in 1863