An Underground Railroad sounds like a great idea. No standing out in the cold. A respite from the rain. A fun little journey toward the center of the Earth. But don't buy your ticket just yet—as it turns out, the Underground Railroad was actually a network of safe houses that helped slaves escape from slave states to free states.
|U.S. History||Antebellum Period and Manifest Destiny: 1815–1860|
You know – one with sleeping cars, train tracks, and… paying passengers.
Plus, I was told that this thing was “underground,” so I spent the first two hours trying to find
my way through a surprisingly spacious gopher hole…
But I just ran into someone who gave me the low-down.
Apparently, this supposed “railroad” is actually just a system of paths and secret
locations for slaves to make their way to freedom in the North.
No steam whistles, no “choo-choo!” – no nothin’. It’s elaborate, this “railroad.”
We’re talking stops in Mexico, as well as Florida,
where the Spanish have still got their hands on everything.
So… why the confusion?
Who decided to be difficult and start calling this non-railroad… a railroad?
From what I hear, it arose out of a number of railway terms that the slaves were already
using to describe certain aspects of it.
For example, this Harriet Tubman – who reportedly helps escort slaves along the way –
is referred to as a “conductor.”
Some of the safe houses located along the route are known as “stations.”
These are just like real railroad stations, except they don’t smell quite so much like discarded Funyuns.
Slaves also draw some connections to the Bible.
I guess a lot of these slaves must consider Canada “the promised land.”
They must really love hockey.
Anyway, many of them refer to their travels northward as “the Gospel Train.”
Word on the street…
…and when I say street, I mean dusty dirt road…
…is that many slaves are too scared to… “take a ride on the Reading,” as it were.
And understandably so. They know that, if they were to get caught as fugitives, they
would be killed, beaten and/or returned to their former master.
The trains I deal with?
If someone can’t pay their fare, we just toss ‘em off at the next bale of hay.
Not only that, but the “free” slaves helping the slaves out of the south
are really sticking their necks out…
… and you know what those southerners like to do with necks.
Ever since they passed that Fugitive Slave Act back in 1850…
… everyone has been on high alert.
There are legalized raids and mounted pro-slavery men with dogs…
… and these dogs are not just interested in playing fetch. Not with sticks, anyway.
So obviously, I’m in the wrong place.
No “blue line express” is likely to come rolling through these woods any time soon.
If you see Ms. Tubman, let her know I’m lookin’ for her...
I’m hoping she’s as good at tracking down actual railroads
as she is at running the metaphorical ones…