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Travel the Underground Railroad!

Share The Underground Railroad, a new book from Scholastic, author Raymond Bial paints a vivid picture of the lives of slaves and of the emotions behind their desperate need to escape -- whatever the risks. Text and photographs detail the history of slavery and the laws that governed slaves. Bial visits slave cabins, auction yards, and other stops along the Underground Railroad, and he introduces readers to some of the heroes -- black and white -- of the time.

"God willed us free. Men willed us slaves. We will do as God wills."
-- Harriet Tubman, from The Underground Railroad, by Raymond Bial

The excerpt below is from author Raymond Bial's forward to The Underground Railroad.

It was important for me to visit these placesto stand on the very ground of the slave cabins where men, women, and children were held in bondage, to gaze on the courthouse yard where human beings were auctioned off to the highest bidder, to wander through the antebellum homes that served as 'stations' on the Underground Railroad."

Book Cover Image Bial's book allows readers to stand on that very same ground. The text and detailed photographs provide images of safe houses, where slaves hid under eaves or behind fake walls. Tunnels where "runaways waited in silence, their only light a candle or oil lamp" come to life. Bial writes of carts with false bottoms "beneath which runaway slaves could be hidden under sacks of grain," of chains "used to hobble slaves" to keep them from running away, and of a slave's wooden shoes. "Imagine," the author asked, "the desperate fugitive who had to run for his life through the woods and fields in bare feet."

The book also introduces readers to many of the heroes of the Underground Railroad. Thomas Garrett sheltered more than 2,500 runaway slaves before he was arrested and bankrupted by the huge fines assessed for his "crime." Elijah Lovejoy published an abolitionist newspaper and was killed "while protecting his printing press from a proslavery mob." John Parker, a free black, rescued a baby from the very foot of a slave owner's bed so the baby and his parents could escape slavery.

The Underground Railroad is as much about the practice of slavery as about people who escaped slavery. The book traces the history of slavery in the United States and includes excerpts from the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, information about the 1793 Fugitive Slave Law, and a chronology of the antislavery movement.

Readers learn of laws that allowed the sale of men and women at auctions, forbade the education of slaves, and did not to recognize their marriages between slaves. Those facts paint a vivid picture of the lives of many slaves and underline the emotions behind slaves' desperate need to escape, whatever the risks. Chilling descriptions detail children literally torn from their parents' arms; beatings, neglect, and daily mistreatment; and kidnappings and bondage.

The Underground Railroad is not a novel. It's a non-fiction book that provides a matter-of-fact account of the people, places, and events connected with slavery and the Underground Railroad. Many of the stories are so personal, however, that the book often reads like a novel. Students in middle school and above, despite the amount of real historical information in the book, will find it difficult to be bored.

Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © 2000 Education World

The book highlighted in this week's Education World BOOKS IN EDUCATION story is available in bookstores everywhere. If you are unable to locate a copy, ask your bookseller to order it for you or contact the publisher directly.
  • The Underground Railroad, written by Raymond Bial, is published by Houghton Mifflin Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10003.


  • Black History Month All Year Long This site has enough black history resources to keep you busy for an entire year! Links to lessons are included, along with sources for folktales, the Underground Railroad, and the Amistad.
  • Aboard the Underground Railroad. This section of the National Park Service Web site includes a map of several Underground Railroad routes, a bibliography, and a great deal of historical information.
  • Slavery and the Underground Railroad A number of excellent classroom activities and projects teachers can use in a study of slavery, the Civil War, or the Underground Railroad.
  • Walk to Canada - Tracing the Underground Railroad follow historian Anthony Cohen as he traces by foot one of the routes of the Underground Railroad, from Maryland to Canada. (Began May 4, 1996).
  • Underground Railroad Theme Study a discussion amongst teachers of a possible curriculum for a thematic study of the Underground Railroad. Includes lists of fiction, non-fiction, folklore, poetry, music and more.

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