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As Bial says in his introduction, photography was not yet invented when many of the daring escapes on the Underground Railroad occurred, and because everything had to be kept so secret, few documentary records have survived. In his simple photo-essay, he tries to re-create the experience of the brave runaways and conductors. He has photographed the places and objects that tell the story: the rivers the people crossed, the plantations they ran from, the homes that sheltered them with a lit window to signal a safe haven, the secret passages and trapdoors, and the courthouse yard where the slave auctions took place. He also includes drawings and prints from the times and a wanted poster for runaway "property." The text provides a brief historical overview, with quotes from some of the leaders, such as Tubman and Douglass. The book design is handsome, with thick paper, clear type, and fine reproductions; there's also a chronology and bibliography. Like a museum exhibit, the stirring photographs help us imagine what it must have been like for those who found the courage to run and to help others.
April 1, 1995 Booklist, ALA
Judicious use of first-person accounts and historical documents evokes the hardships that black people experienced under slavery and that eventually led them to seek out conductors who could guide them to freedom. Bial's well-composed, dramatically lit color photographs add life to the book, which is much more than a standard history. A map of the Railroad routes and an antislavery chronology are included.
"Advantageously reproducing first-hand accounts and his own arresting photographs, Bial effectively evokes the era of slavery and its divisive effects on the United States." Publishers Weekly