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Underground Railroad in Floyd County,Indiana

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 21, 2001

    The Real Underground Railroad

    Can you imagine armed guards stationed at ferry terminals on both shores of a wide river, carefully inspecting the travel documents of selected persons? Would that be a scenario from a modern totalitarian government in the years just prior to the fall of Communism in Europe? Thing again. The ferry terminals are in Louisville, Kentucky and New Albany, Indiana, and the time frame is just prior to and including the American Civil War. With frankness and precision, Pamela Peters presents her readers with a glimpse of what it must have been like to be a slave in a Southern state who had the hope of freedom and the only means to attain it: The Underground Railroad Peters paints a brutally frank picture of the stark realities that faced slaves who attempted to cross the Ohio River into a ¿free¿ state like Indiana. Degradation and vilification did not cease on the other shore. Humiliating legislation denied both runaways and free blacks the rights and privileges enjoyed by the white majority, forced them to live in isolated designated areas, required them to register as aliens and even to pay a bond against the likelihood that they might lack gainful employment. She makes it quite clear that crossing over into ¿free¿ territory could not be the final goal for runaway slaves. For complete security, the destination had to be Canada, since federal law permitted owners of escaped slaves to arrest and detain them anywhere in the United States. With painstaking precision, the author documents her findings. She employs every available resource, from gravestones to courthouse records to personal interviews with descendents. In addition to correcting the mistaken popular view that there was freedom and security for runaways in the North, Peters also demonstrates the complicity of most of the mainstream churches in the odious institution that was slavery. As if that were not enough, perhaps one of her most significant contributions is the clear and compelling evidence that the Underground Railroad¿s conductors were not mostly well-intentioned white folks. Rather, those who risked so much to bring freedom to others in this unique clandestine network were free and recently-freed African-Americans , as well as other runaway slaves. No longer can the textbooks persist in perpetuating the illusion that the underground railroad was a noble venture conducted by god-fearing white folks who risked all to save their black sisters and brothers. While this book¿s honesty does not permit flattery of the white majority in the North, its same honesty should make it attractive to all who seek the truth. It should be especially attractive to African-Americans who are continually urged to ¿pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.¿ Thanks to Pamela Peters, it now seems evident that they have been doing precisely that for a long time. Robert Urekew University of Louisville

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