Black History: Special Delivery!!
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The Underground Railroad represented a diverse network of people and organizations. Black and white individuals and organizations participated in these networks, offering aid to enslaved people escaping to freedom. In 1831 an enslaved man named Tice Edwards escaped from Kentucky. He was able to swim across the Ohio River near Ripley, OH. His master was following close behind in a small boat. As Edwards came ashore, his master was certain he would quickly be apprehended. However, when the master came ashore, Edwards was nowhere to be found. Exasperated, the master exclaimed, “He must have gotten away by an underground railroad.” At that time, the steam-powered railroad was considered new technology in the area of transportation. Railroad language was used metaphorically to describe the individuals and networks that assisted the enslaved in reaching freedom. The enslaved freedom seekers were often referred to as “cargo”. This type of imagery made the system seem much more organized than it actually was. The specific dates that the underground railroad is not known. But it was in operation from the late 18th century to the Civil War.
When the enslaved embarked on their journey to freedom, they often traveled alone, living off the land as they traveled between “stations” on the underground railroad. In most cases, individuals assisting the enslaved knew only about their local networks. Most efforts were shrouded in secrecy, and many kept their actions hidden from their families as well. Communication was often indirect and coded so that if overhead its true meaning would not be revealed. The Underground Railroad ceased its operations around 1863 during the Civil War. The freedom of the enslaved became more “visible” and open towards the end of the war as part of Union efforts to defeat the confederacy.
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