By National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
Photo by Carol M. Highsmith, Library of Congress
The Underground Railroad Book Title Page (2022-07-12) by William Still, creator. National Underground Railroad Freedom CenterNational Underground Railroad Freedom Center
The Underground Railroad
With its origins in the late 18th century, the Underground Railroad (UGRR) was a network of African Americans and white allies who provided safe houses and different resources to enslaved persons who seek freedom from the South.
Transatlantic Slave Trade map (2021-01-01) by www.slavevoyages.orgNational Underground Railroad Freedom Center
The Transatlantic Slave Trade
The Transatlantic Slave Trade was the largest forced migration of people across international oceanic borders which brought millions of Africans to the Americas. This event informed the cultural, social, and economic development of African descent in American culture.
Brookes Slave Ship (1788-01-01) by Printed Ephemera Collection (Library of Congress) DLCNational Underground Railroad Freedom Center
Brookes Slave Ship Diagram
One of the most iconic images that represents the horrors in the transportation of enslaved people was the Brookes slave ship diagram. Spearheaded by a British abolitionist group, the diagram illustrated how they were packed in tight spaces with little room for movement.
Advertisement Public Slave Sale (2022-07-12) by National Underground Railroad Freedom CenterNational Underground Railroad Freedom Center
The Sale of Enslaved People
Enslaved Africans were brought to the Americas as a source of plentiful and cheap labor versus indentured servants who were poor Europeans. An internal slave trade also happened where they were forced to walk over long distances to be sold at a slave auction in the South.
Enslaved People Working (1860-01-01) by Hubbard & MixNational Underground Railroad Freedom Center
Working as an Enslaved Person
Enslaved Africans worked both inside and outside of the master's plantation under extremely harsh conditions. While many recognized that they picked cotton, they harvested other crops like rice, sugar, corn, and tobacco, but they did so for their masters; not for them.
Enslaved Family in Front of Home (1862-01-01) by George Harper HoughtonNational Underground Railroad Freedom Center
While they endured harsh working conditions, both enslaved adults and their children existed as a typical nuclear family unit. Working 6 days a week, enslaved families used Sundays for church and family time.
Enslaved People Dancing (1857-01-01) by Frank LeslieNational Underground Railroad Freedom Center
Families participated in music storytelling, and religion as an outlet to break away from the brutal conditions of enslavement. Singing spirituals originated as ways of communication and dancing was used to celebrate special occasions.
Yams or Sweet Potatoes (1800-01-01/1860-01-01) by Library of CongressNational Underground Railroad Freedom Center
The food brought to the Americas was to ensure that human cargo was kept nourished in order to do manual labor upon landing. These foods include okra, yams, and black-eyed peas which is connected to our current cuisine.
Soul Food Dinner (2007-10-06) by Jennifer Woodward MaderazoNational Underground Railroad Freedom Center
Food for the Soul
What is called soul food today has its origins attached to slavery. Enslaved individuals were forced to eat the animal parts their masters discarded. Enslaved chefs who worked in the house created dishes that Americans consume like gumbo, ox tails, and greens.
Saucepan (2022-07-12) by National Underground Railroad Freedom CenterNational Underground Railroad Freedom Center
The method of cooking greens, deep frying fish, and barbecuing meats are several ways enslaved people originated in Africa before the slave trade that became another American cuisine staple.
Photographic Print– Union Baptist Church of Cincinnati (2022-07-12) by National Underground Railroad Freedom CenterNational Underground Railroad Freedom Center
Religion was an important part among the enslaved. The African American church started in the South where Evangelical Baptist and Methodist preachers traveled around appealing to enslaved people where they adopted and assimilated their own practices in the 18th century.
Negro Church (1936-03-01) by Walker EvansNational Underground Railroad Freedom Center
Church as a Refuge
The African American church served as a refuge to escape the dehumanizing actions against enslaved individuals in the UGRR by providing food and clothing and teaching them how to read and write.
A Doll Toy (2022-07-12) by National Underground Railroad Freedom Center - Teacher Resource CenterNational Underground Railroad Freedom Center
Lives of Enslaved Children
Enslaved children engaged in toys and games like masters' children, but in a different capacity. They played with dolls, balls, and jump ropes made with discarded yarn, corn husks, sticks, or rags because there was not an opportunity to purchase toys from a store.
Carved Sculpture (2022-07-12) by Karen Heyl, creator. National Underground Railroad Freedom CenterNational Underground Railroad Freedom Center
The Underground Railroad Movement
With the inability to endure the grave conditions anymore, enslaved individuals started to make the decision seek freedom. They went to free states (like Ohio), Canada, and the Northeast while some even went West and to Mexico. They also took dangerous chances to achieve safety.
William Still Watercolor Painting (2022-07-12) by Jerry Pinkney, creator. National Underground Railroad Freedom CenterNational Underground Railroad Freedom Center
William Still and Other Abolitionists
African American abolitionists included Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Henry Box Brown, and William Still. Ohio industrialist John Parker guided freedom seekers risking getting in trouble under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.
Newspaper – Harper’s Weekly (2022-07-12) by National Underground Railroad Freedom CenterNational Underground Railroad Freedom Center
The Turning Point
The Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation, the 13th Amendment, and Juneteenth were events that impacted the end of slavery. While they did make an impact, it didn't stop the oppression of African Americans in systems like the Jim Crow laws and early mass incarceration.
EBONY Magazine front cover (2022-07-12) by Ebony Magazine. National Underground Railroad Freedom CenterNational Underground Railroad Freedom Center
Where Do We Go From Here?
While the Civil Rights of 1964 marked a shift in social justice for African Americans since the UGRR, the idea of freedom seeker has never been lost as they continue the fight for racial equity among various power structures in the United States.