William Still (American National Biography)

Scholarship
Larry Gara, "Still, William," American National Biography Online, February 2000, http://www.anb.org/articles/15/15-00657.html.
Still's book, The Underground Railroad (1872), was unique. The only work on that subject written by an African American, it was also the only day-by-day record of the workings of a vigilance committee. While he gave credit to "the grand little army of abolitionists," he put the spotlight on the fugitives themselves, saying "the race had no more eloquent advocates than its own self-emancipated champions." Besides recording their courageous deeds, Still hoped that the book would demonstrate the intellectual ability of his race. Along with the records of slave escapes he included excerpts from newspapers, legal documents, correspondence of abolitionists and former slaves, and some biographical sketches. He published the book himself and sent out agents to sell it. The book went into three editions and was exhibited at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876.

Although he had not suffered personally under slavery, Still faced discrimination throughout his life and was determined to work for improved race relations. His concern about civil rights in the North led him in 1859 to write a letter to the press, which started a campaign to end racial discrimination on Philadelphia streetcars, where African Americans were permitted only on the unsheltered platforms. Eight years later the campaign met success when the Pennsylvania legislature enacted a law making such discrimination illegal. In 1861 he helped organize and finance the Pennsylvania Civil, Social, and Statistical Association to collect data about the freed slaves and to press for universal suffrage.
How to Cite This Page: "William Still (American National Biography)," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, https://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/index.php/node/15042.