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The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 made William Still's work extremely risky, both personally and for the clandestine operation he supervised for over a decade. Under the law, free northern states were prohibited from harboring so-called runaway slaves, and citizens who provided aid were subject to steep fines, civil penalties, and imprisonment. In spite of the risks, Still corresponded with, interviewed, and recorded the stories of hundreds of fugitives, concealing the records in a grave until the day they could safely be made public.
William Still's meticulous record keeping appears to have been unique among high-level Underground Railroad operatives. Certainly, no comparable history of the northern slave exodus has survived to this day. In terms of its scope and depth, The Underground Rail Road stands alone in documenting the extraordinary experiences of those who escaped slavery in mid-19th century America.
Posted November 13, 2001
This is a major and unknown work in American history and literature. I can't believe more people don't know about the work of William Still, one of the most important figures on the Underground Railroad. Eight hundred pages of amazing first person narratives by people who survived the ordeal of slavery and escaped to tell about it. Read this unknown American classic.
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