Underground Railroad (Hakim, 1996)

Joy Hakim, Liberty for All? (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 177-178.
When they got to the Ohio side of the river there was no way to get onto the land. The river’s banks were too steep and the horses kept slipping. Soon the three runaways feared they might freeze to death. Then, as morning came, they saw where a road cut through the hilly bank. They had made it to a free state.

But that didn’t mean they were free. According to the Fugitive Slave Law, anyone who found them in Ohio was obliged to return them to their owner. If you broke the law you could go to jail, or be fined, or both.

John, Dinah, and Frank were lucky: the first person they met was a Quaker man who would not obey that law. He was willing to risk a jail sentence. He fed them and gave them a place to rest.

The fugitives were heading for Canada, where slavery had been abolished. Before they went on they let their horses go, sending them back toward Kentucky, where their owner found them. Then Dinah started out; she thought it was safer to go by herself. No one knows what happened to her. John and Frank went next. The Quaker man sent them all traveling on the Underground Railroad.

You may have heard of that railroad. Well, it wasn’t a real railroad, and it wasn’t underground. Still, the name made sense. The Underground Railroad was a secret way of travel, with conductors and stations and passengers. The passengers were blacks escaping from slavery. The conductors – who were blacks and white – helped them along the way. The stations were places where people could be trusted to feed and house and help the runaways. Some of those places were houses with special hidden rooms; some were barns; some were even riverboats.

The fugitives traveled at night, following the North Star. Sometimes the nights were cloudy and there were no stars to follow. Sometimes hunting dogs were sent to track them down. Usually the passengers traveled through places they had never been before. Often they were hungry. Always they were scared. But the idea of freedom gave them the courage they needed. As they went they whispered the locations of the railroad’s stations to one another.
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