(p. C7) The first scholarly study of the Underground Railroad, published by Wilbur Siebert in 1898, named some 3,200 “agents,” virtually all of them white men, who presided over an elaborate network of fixed routes, illustrated with maps that looked much like those of an ordinary railroad.
That view largely held among scholars until 1961, when the historian Larry Gara published “The Liberty Line,” a slashing revisionist study that dismissed the Underground Railroad as a myth and argued that most fugitive slaves escaped at their own initiative, with little help from organized abolitionists. Scholarship on the topic all but dried up, as historians more generally emphasized the agency of African-Americans in claiming their own freedom.
But over the past 15 years, aided by newly digitized records of obscure abolitionist newspapers and local archives, scholars have constructed a new picture of the Underground Railroad as a collection of loosely interlocking local networks of activists, both black and white, that waxed and waned over time but nevertheless helped a significant number reach freedom.
. . .
In “Gateway to Freedom,” Mr. Foner ties much of that work together, while uncovering the history of the eastern corridor’s key gateway, New York City.
“This book is a capstone,” said Matthew Pinsker, a historian at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., who will be teaching it to K-12 educators at a workshop this summer. “The Underground Railroad was real, and Foner will help ordinary people understand that in a way that doesn’t rely on fiction or quilt stories, but on actual documents and records.”
For the full review, see:
JENNIFER SCHUESSLER. “Words From the Past Illuminate a Station on the Way to Freedom.” The New York Times (Thurs., JAN. 15, 2015): C1 & C7.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date JAN. 14, 2015.)
The book under review is:
Foner, Eric. Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2015.